It’s been an up and down year for the airliners. There have been several viral incidents that sparked a barrage of negative press and backlash for companies like United, JetBlue, Delta, and American Airlines.
Regardless of how you feel about flying, it remains the fastest way to travel long distances. And even as these companies lower prices in an attempt to gain more market share, it’s surprisingly easy to rack up expenses on air travel. Here are a few flying hacks that can either save you money, time, or make flying a little more enjoyable.
Get a free flight on miles.
One of the most common perks offered by credit cards is airline miles. The more you use your credit card in your wallet, the more miles you can accrue, which can then be redeemed for flights at a great discount (or even free if you have enough). Capital One, Chase, and Discover are just a few of the companies that offer airline perks with their credit cards. Or check out the airline cards from American Airlines, Southwest, Delta and more. Depending on your departure airport and airline routes, one may make the most sense for you.
It matters where you book your flight.
When booking your flight, take your time and price match. Sites like Priceline, Kayak, and Expedia offer easy comparisons of flight rates. One unknown favorite is Google Flights. See how these rates compare with the ones on the airline’s website, and price match your way to a cheaper fare.
Watch your luggage size.
Airlines are very strict about what kinds of luggage they allow on planes. Know the difference between personal items that can be placed by your feet (like purses or backpacks), carry-on bags that go in the overhead bins (smaller suitcases and duffel bags), and checked luggage.
Each airline has weight and width regulations for luggage. Usually it’s 50 pounds and 62 inches for a checked bag. If you go over these restrictions you’ll be hit with fees, so weigh your bags beforehand to avoid this. For example, Southwest Airlines charges $75 for every bag that exceeds its dimension limits.
If you don’t have a suitcase that fits those dimensions, or you think you’ll over pack with the ones you do have, try looking for a smaller one that won’t get flagged at check-in.
Know how much luggage you’re allowed.
The Federal Aviation Authority limits every airline passenger to bring one personal item and one carry-on item on the plane with them, but smaller airlines like Spirit and Frontier will charge for your carry-on as well. In Spirit’s case, this fee can be anywhere from $35-$100.
Most major U.S. airlines charge for every bag you check. The exception is Southwest, who doesn’t charge for your first two bags on domestic flights or flights to Mexico. In some cases, the rates per checked bag can increase the more more bags you check or if you’re flying to internatioally. TripAdvisor has a good general breakdown, but make sure you confirm with the airline that you’re flying.
Save time with TSA Precheck.
If you’re more concerned with saving time rather than money, consider applying for TSA Precheck or Global Entry program. This allows you to jump through security without waiting in the long line, and you won’t have to take off your shoes, belts, or jackets.
According to TSA, 97 percent of precheck passengers waited less than five minutes to get through security in April 2017. Some employers and credit cards reimburse you for this fee, so do your research.
If you’re not the kind of person who can sleep on planes, consider your entertainment options. Sitting in a seat for several hours at a time can be draining, both on your energy and your phone/tablet/computer. Get a external charger to keep your phone or devices juiced up the whole trip.
Some airline provide movies/TV shows at a cost, while others are free. Check the flight amenities online in advance to understand the cost. Traveling with a friend? Use total wireless headphones (and use one earbud each) and only pay for one in-flight entertainment package, but now the two of you can enjoy it for only half the price. Now try to pick a movie you can both agree on…
Be prepared in flight.
Here are a few flying essentials to keep you entertained and/or comfortable on the flight:
- External charger: Don’t be caught without power; your entertainment depends on it. Most airlines do not provide outlets at every (or any) seat.
- Travel pillow: Sleep comfortably no matter what seat you are given.
- Headphones: Airlines may provide some free entertainment, but the headphones cost $5.00+. Bring your own to enjoy quality sound and no extra cost. To save on entertainment costs, consider sharing totally wireless headphones with your travel buddy.
- Tablet/eReader/Book/Magazine: Download your own movies or games before the flight. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services can be viewed without wifi if you download videos ahead of time.
- Water bottle: Since you can’t take water through TSA, and a bottle of water cost 5 times more in the terminal, bringing your own empty water bottle through TSA and filling it at a water station before boarding, helps you save a lot. Plus, the tiny water cups that the airline attendants give you on the flight, along with salty snacks, is a recipe for dehydration. Staying hydrated helps blood circulation and energy for when you reach you final destination. A folding water bottle saves space too!
- Tissues/napkins: Use for food, runny noses, or spills.
- Gum: Some find it helpful for relieving pressure in your ears as you ascend and descend in flight.
- Toothbrush/toothpaste/mints: Especially helpful for long flights with long naps. No one likes the smell of morning breath.
- Socks/Sweater: Airlines keep the cabin temperature cool (this also helps put you to sleep), but if you wore open toed shoes or a short sleeve shirt, you may find yourself chilly the entire flight. Stay comfortable by bringing a sweater and a pair of socks that can be easily added to your wardrobe (compression socks help with circulation as well!).
- Earplugs/Eye mask: Trying to sleep? Good luck with the baby crying behind you or the Chatty Cathy next to you. Bring earplugs and an eye mask to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Snacks: The terminal shops and the airlines charge triple the price for for most snacks. Bringing your own can save you a lot of dough! Plus, you can eat healthier with fresh fruits and veggies (domestic flights only). Also, bring snacks that are not too odorous. There is nothing worse than smelling a neighbor’s tuna sandwich. They will appreciate you being a courteous seatmate.
Sit back and enjoy your flight!