Best travel hacks for flying: tips for casual travelers and seasoned globetrotters
Don’t you just dread the thought of flying? That’s why I’ve compiled my best travel hacks for flying to help make air travel a breeze.
From booking flights to long lines at the airport, the whole process can be stressful, uncomfortable, and expensive. Thankfully, there are many effective ways to overcome our flight woes. This is called travel hacking.
Looking for tips to discover cheap airfare? Hoping to make the process more relaxed and efficient? Then you’ve come to the right place! Here are 13 travel hacks for flying that will save you time, money, and hassle.
Sit back and enjoy the flight!
1. Set up price alerts on your phone or desktop
Good things come to those who wait.
If you’re like me and have a bucket list that’s a mile long, you should set up price alerts to discover the best flight deals to your dream destinations. Prices fluctuate all the time, so it’s impossible to keep tabs on them. As such, you should let an app or your good friend, Google, do this for you.
There are plenty of great travel apps out there that you can use for cheap flight alerts. I typically use Google Flights, Hopper, and Kayak. Below are some step-by-step guides to set up price alerts with Google Flights and Hopper.
(If you’re already a flight alert pro, feel free to skip down to travel hack #2!)
How to set up price alerts with Google Flights:
- Step 1: Select your departure airport, destination, dates, and other travel information (i.e. number of passengers).
- Step 2: Click the “Track Prices” toggle. This will allow Google to automatically track the flight prices.
- Step 3: A pop-up will appear on your screen. Select the “View all” button.
- Step 4: A graph will appear showing the historical flight prices for your selected route. Select the “Email notifications” toggle in the top right corner. If you’re not already signed into your Gmail account, you will be prompted to do so.
- Step 5: Check your email. You’ll receive notifications each time the price goes down. At the bottom of the email, you’ll have the option to unsubscribe from receiving these alerts.
Bottom Line: Google Flights is a simple and convenient tool to begin your quest for cheap flight deals. For more sophisticated capabilities and analytics for your flight alerts, I recommend using Hopper.
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How to set up price alerts with Hopper:
(Note: Hopper is not available on desktop or the web, so you’ll have to download the app to use it).
- Step 1: Enter your desired flight information (destination, dates, etc.). At the bottom of the screen, you’ll also have the option to select the “See Flex Dates” button. This will show you the best deals within a few weeks of your specified dates. (pic)
After submitting the information above, you’ll see a bunny hopping across the screen. This bunny means business!
- Step 2: When you get to the next screen, see what actions the bunny suggests. Hopper provides insightful recommendations and predictions (should you buy now or later?) based on historical prices and trends. I’ve found these predictions to be pretty accurate, but they are only predictions.
- Step 3: If you would rather wait to purchase the airline tickets until the price comes down, you should click the “Watch This Trip” button. You’ll then receive push notifications when the prices go down.
Bottom line: Hopper is very interactive and user friendly. Based on my experiences using the app, the recommendations have been spot on. For these reasons, I prefer Hopper’s price alerts over those of Google Flights and Kayak.
2. Be flexible with your dates and destinations
Why be flexible with your dates?
This travel hack for flying is pretty straightforward: the more flexible you are with your flights, the more money you’ll save.
During my recent trip to Colombia, I saved $250 by flying out a day later than I desired. In the past year alone, I’ve saved thousands of dollars by being flexible with my departure and return flights.
Rather than having to type in different dates over and over again, sites like Skyscanner and Kayak do all the leg work for you. The Skyscanner screenshot below shows how you can filter on the best deals during a given month.
Sometimes, flexibility with flight dates isn’t possible. If you only have a tight window to play with, try to be flexible with your destinations instead. There are so many beautiful places in the world, so I’m sure you’ll find something while playing flight “roulette”!
Why be flexible with your destinations?
If you have a long bucket list, there’s no need to book a trip somewhere right now if the flight prices are through the roof. Instead of going to London or Paris in July, perhaps consider September or next May. In the meantime, explore one of Europe’s lesser known cities in July, instead.
Using platforms like Skyscanner and Kayak, you can filter on the best flight deals in the world…anytime, anywhere. Skyscanner’s “Explore Everywhere” and “Best Deals by Month” options work wonders. As a cost-conscious traveler, I’ve found that these features have led me to some of the coolest and most unexpected places.
Roundtrip fares to Spain for $216? Not bad!
During my Europe trip last fall, I used these features to find $15-40 fares for each leg of my journey. They led me to places like Valletta, Malta, and Krakow, Poland which weren’t initially on my radar. Now, they sure are!
Using Skyscanner’s flexible searches is kind of like playing a game of roulette (but better!). As long as you’re flexible with your preferences, you’ll find the cheapest flights to anywhere in the world. So pack your bags and get to it!
3. Turn on ‘private browsing’ mode or clear your cookies
Since 2014, I’ve witnessed several instances of this dirty trick while browsing flights with friends. I’ve experienced this in both the US and Europe, so it seems to be a widely adopted practice.
To ensure that you pay the lowest possible price on your flights, you’ll want to adhere to the following travel hack for flying:
The best way to avoid paying higher prices, clear your cookies or open a private browser. In my opinion, turning on “Incognito Mode” once is better than having to clear your cookies after every search. Below are a few screenshots of how to access this mode on Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox:
Click the three-dotted icon in the top-right corner of the browser. Select “New incognito window.”
Internet Explorer: Click the three-dotted icon in the top-right corner of the browser. Select “New InPrivate window.”
Mozilla Firefox: Click the three-dotted icon in the top-right corner of the browser. Select “New Private Window.”
As I was writing this article, I decided to check if this was still a thing. I searched for flights from Boston to San Francisco (May 7-14) on a regular browser versus a private one, and look what I found…
All filters and parameters the same, the incognito browser was $60 cheaper!! This travel hack for flying is such a great money saver. See below:
Regular browser: Cheapest fare – $576
Incognito browser: Cheapest fare – $516
Unbelievable, right? I was really hoping this wouldn’t happen, as I’d like to think that it’s all just a coincidence. Usually it’s only a few dollars off, not $60…Wow!
Moral of the story: before pulling the trigger when booking your next flight, be sure to turn on private browsing. This quick travel hack could save you some serious cash.
4. Consider flying through alternate airports
Some cities have more than one major airport. London, for example, has five airports: Gatwick, Heathrow, London City, London Luton, and Stansted. New York City has three major airports within reach of its 8+ million people: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark. Whenever you’re traveling to or from a place with multiple airports, it’s important to carefully weigh all your options. This could take a little extra time, but it will definitely save you money.
The pros and cons of flying through alternate airports
When deciding which airport to fly into, one should consider the trade-off between cost and convenience.
If you’re trying to find the best possible deals on your flights, you should always search for the city rather than the specific airport. Most airline websites give you both options. So if you’re from New York City, for example, you have the ability to set “JFK” or “NYC” in the ‘departure’ field. If convenience is more important to you than price, it may be best to focus your searches on specific airports.
One city where most travelers will likely err on the side of convenience is Paris. The city has four airports, but I’m going to touch upon two of them: Charles de Gaulle (the main airport) and Paris Beauvais Airport (the hub for budget airlines).
Though the airfare prices are typically cheaper at Paris Beauvais, it’s important to note that it’s located 54 miles outside of Paris. This equates to a 1.5-hour bus ride that costs €17 to get into the city center. With traffic, it’s taken me over 2.5 hours to get into Paris. Not fun, particularly when you’re crunched for time. Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, is only about 15 miles outside the city and is conveniently connected by rail for €9. I always consider the price of ground transportation along with the flight costs before booking.
Another city that provides a good example of this trade-off is London. It’s generally much cheaper to fly through Gatwick than Heathrow, but it’ll cost you more time and money to get into the city. From Heathrow, you can hop directly on the Tube to get to the center of London, whereas from Gatwick, you’ll need to pay more for a train ticket.
There are definitely some circumstances when time and convenience beat price.
Flying into nearby airports outside your intended city
In densely populated regions, you’ll find that flying into another city altogether could make sense if the price is right. For instance, I’ve found much cheaper airfare flying through Orlando than Tampa (which are only 1.5 hours apart by car). If you’d like to save a few bucks and don’t mind veering a little off course, then flying through another airport in the region is a great option.
The general rule of thumb here is to always do your homework when deciding which airport to fly into. There’s a lot of options out there, so be sure to browse fares to nearby airports with sites like Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Kayak.
Other key considerations for choosing the right airport
I’m all for flying into secondary airports, but there are situations when it makes more sense to fly into the more convenient ones. Budget airlines are enticing with their low ticket prices, but you should also consider the ancillary costs associated with flying during off-peak hours. For example, if the airport has limited public transportation options for an early morning flight, you may need to catch an expensive taxi or stay at an airport hotel.
Whichever option you choose during this stage of the flight process, make sure you feel comfortable with the price-convenience trade-off.
5. Traveling in twos? Choose your seats wisely!
Seat selection is a bit of a strategy game, particularly when you’re traveling in pairs. There are really three things that are most important to travelers: leg room, personal space, and restroom access. To make the best possible seating decision, you’ll want to first understand the seating configuration of your plane. Three standard layouts that you’ll typically encounter are 3-3, 3-3-3, and 3-4-3.
Here’s where to sit if you’re traveling in twos:
3-3 Plane Layout
If you anticipate that the plane won’t be full, it’s a good idea to book a window and an aisle seat. Who in their right mind would want to be sandwiched between two strangers when there are plenty of other seats to choose from? If you’re traveling during low-season or on a route that has numerous flights per day, you’ll likely be in luck with this trick. If, for whatever reason, someone decides to pick that middle seat (or the airline auto-assigns it), it should be pretty easy to switch. After all, who wouldn’t trade a middle seat for an aisle or window seat?
3-3-3 and 3-4-3 Plane Layouts
When I’m traveling in twos on larger planes, my first pick is always the middle set of seats. As long as you’ve selected a seat next to your companion, you won’t have to pester (or be pestered by) a stranger when somebody has to use the restroom. If the person between you and the bathroom is snoring, I’d rather hop over my friend/family member than someone I don’t know. Sitting in the middle set of seats on a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 plane will help you avoid this altogether.
If the middle row is already occupied during the seat selection process, don’t fret! You’re best bet is to follow the advice described above for 3-3 planes, and hoping that the plane isn’t overbooked! Even if it is, I’m sure the person who snagged the middle seat will gladly switch for an aisle.
Be sure to heed this advice, especially on a long haul flight with a budget airline. There’s truly nothing worse than having a bad seat on a long flight…
6. Choose the right travel credit card
If you’re a frequent flyer, it may be a good idea to get a travel rewards credit card.
Before going down the rabbit hole of choosing the right travel credit card, you should first ask yourself these two questions:
- How often do I travel?
- How much am I willing to dish out on annual fees?
Generally speaking, the more you travel, the more you can justify paying for a card with higher annual fees. Premium cards give you many perks, including access to airport lounges (free food and drinks, anyone?) and credits on incidentals (i.e. free checked luggage). Sometimes, credit card companies will offer promotions to waive the first year’s fee. If you don’t want to pay annual fees, there are plenty of basis cards where you’ll get extra points on travel and dining expenses.
I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers no foreign transaction fees, 2x points on travel and dining, and an additional 25% value when using points to book flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. The annual fee is $95 a year, which is nothing compared to the benefits I get from using it.
American Express also offers a few great travel rewards credit cards. However, they carry high annual fees (the good ones start at $250 a year). If you travel frequently enough, Amex is the gold standard.
I wouldn’t recommend getting an airline-specific credit card unless you’re a die-hard fan of that airline who refuses to fly with any others. Especially if you fly internationally, you don’t want to confine yourself to one airline.
There are many great travel rewards credit cards out there, so be sure to do some research and find one that best fits your needs!
In addition to travel rewards credit cards, you should also sign up for frequent flyer programs. This is one of the top ways travelers like myself can afford to do it so much!
7. Just an hour of free airport Wi-Fi? Double it!
That moment when you run out of you free airport Wi-Fi. The worst feeling in the world!
Thankfully, there’s a clever way to extend your 30 minutes or hour of free Wi-Fi. This is one of the best-kept secrets, so here’s your reward you for making it all the way down to travel hack #7:
To extend your free airport Wi-Fi, you’ll want to roll back the clock on your device. By turning your timezone back an hour, you’ll be able to double the amount of time the system allows you to use it. This travel hack has worked for me at every airport I’ve tried it. However, as technology continues to improve, I’m sure they’ll find a way to close this loophole.
This is definitely one of the best airport hacks out there.
8. Calm your airport nerves with the MyTSA app
If you’re nervous about what time to arrive at the airport, you’ll find a comforting friend in the MyTSA app. This is a valuable resource provided by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This free app contains the following information:
- Estimated wait times at airport security checkpoints.
- 24/7 access to key security information (i.e. contact information and live assistance).
- Guidance on permitted and prohibited luggage items.
- Airport or weather delays that may affect your flight.
If you’re anxious about the security wait time or curious about what’s allowed in your luggage, MyTSA is a great resource that will answer most of your questions. Additionally, another way to help make the airport security process a breeze is having TSA PreCheck. I have much more information on this in my other article: 33 things to do before a flight.
9. Invest in a portable battery charger
In pretty much every airport, the competition for outlets is fierce. I’ve wasted so much precious time trying to weasel my way into a seat with a charging station. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t find one.
To mitigate the possibility of having a dead phone or laptop, you should definitely consider buying a portable battery charger. This travel hack for flying will definitely come in handy, especially if you have a phone with minimal battery life like me. I use my external battery charger at the airport, on the road, and basically everywhere else. It’s honestly a life saver.
Here’s the portable battery charger I own, which is one of the best in the market:
I use the Anker portable battery to charge my phone, iPad, and camera batteries. It works for years (unlike cheaper brands), and has an amazing battery life. It’s relatively light and indestructible (I’ve accidentally dropped it a few times, and it’s still as good as new).
Depending on how much battery life you need, there are plenty of portable charger between $10 and $50. It’s definitely a worthwhile investment.
10. Don’t pay for water. Instead, bring an empty water bottle through security
I bring reusable water bottles with me wherever I go. This is a huge cost saver at airports, which charge rip-off prices for water.
Though you’re not allowed to bring large liquid containers through security, you can carry empty water bottles without an issue. Most airports these days have filtered water fountains, so you can easily refill on the other side of security. Remember: drinking lots of water and staying hydrated is a great way to beat jet lag.
11. Ask for “no ice” when you order drinks on a plane
There are a couple of compelling reasons why you shouldn’t get ice with your drink. First of all, ice takes away from the actual drink in your tiny cup. And most of the time, these beverages are stored in a cool place any way, so having ice won’t make much of a difference.
On a more serious note, you shouldn’t get ice with your drink on planes for sanitary reasons. The ice is typically stored in a tray with a scoop that’s laden with bacteria and made from the plane’s supply of tap water (not filtered water). There’s plenty of literature about this online corroborated by passengers, flight attendants, and independent research studies. They seem to indicate that ice on planes doesn’t have a reputation for being sanitary.
12. Get the Mobile Passport app if you’re a US or Canadian Citizen
Taking an international flight back home? For US and Canadian citizens, Mobile Passport is a convenient app that alleviates the hassle of entering the United States.
This app lets you to breeze through Customs at 25 airports and 3 cruise port terminals. All you have to do is enter your passport and trip info, and then you’re good to go.
Using Mobile Passport, you won’t have to pester fellow flight passengers to borrow a pen. Where on Earth has this app been all my life?
Here’s what the “New Declaration” screen looks like. This information is required when you enter the U.S. Mobile Passport is a much better alternative to filling out paper forms.
13. Exercise before heading to the airport
If you have an early morning flight, this may not be possible. However, even walking around the terminal right before your flight can make a huge difference on your energy level and mood.
Exercising gets your endorphins flowing, which can counteract the negative feelings you may have about going to the airport and flying. It’s also excellent for your immune system, and may help you to fall asleep faster on the flight.
If you heed the advice in travel hack #5 above, you’ll have an aisle seat to walk around and stretch during your flight.
The most obvious travel hacks for flying
In addition to the tips and tricks above, the most important way to save money on air travel is by choosing a budget airline. They aren’t often the most convenient, nor do they service the best connecting flight airports, but they sure are cheap! Here are the top budget airlines out there where you’re likely to find a flight deal:
Norwegian Airlines: A low-cost carrier that I typically take to get to Europe from the US.
RyanAir: One of the most well-known budget airlines that services Europe. The service isn’t great, but it’s cheap.
EasyJet: Another cheap, no-frills European airline. Be sure to double and triple check their baggage weight requirements!
Southwest Airlines: A low-cost carrier in the US.
Spirit Airlines: Hands down the cheapest budget airline in the US. There are absolutely no frills – you get what you pay for!
Best travel hacks for flying
I hope you find these travel hacks helpful for your next time flying! The purpose of this article was to highlight a mix of travel hacks that apply to novice travelers and trailblazers alike.
You may already be doing most of these things, but hopefully you learned a thing or two! Do you have any travel hacks that have saved you time, money, and hassle when flying? I’d love to hear them!
Oh ya, a few last things before you fly (this is your reward for reading until the end):
(1) Be sure to get a travel neck pillow. It’s a lifesaver, especially if you’re like me and suffer from neck and back pain on long haul flights!
(2) Sign up for error fares and other cheap flight fares using websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Happy Travels! -Jon
*As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases from the affiliate links in this article.
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