In college, a mentor used to always repeat the quote "travel is the only thing you buy that can make you richer." How true that is! Over the past couple of years, I've been very fortunate to travel both domestically and internationally, and believe me, I did it through every mode of transportation possible--boats, planes, trains, and automobiles included! Today, I want to share with you some of the tips I've picked up along the way for booking flights.
- Know your priorities. Before you go on a trip, it's important to narrow down your priorities. These can include a variety of things like price, comfort, convenience, or airline, and they might change depending on the type of trip you're taking. For me, my priorities pretty consistently focus on price and convenience. I always try to find the cheapest flight possible, but if that flight leaves at 5 AM or has a 40 minute layover that's sure to have me sprinting through an airport somewhere, it's worth it to me to pick a slightly more expensive flight that isn't going to leave me feeling frazzled. Plus, you'll want to think critically about all those tempting little upgrades. If you're only going to be in the air for 3 hours, is First Class or a seat with extra leg room really worth the price tag? Besides, if Bridesmaids taught me anything, it's that there is a much better sense of community in Coach anyway.
- Use Google Flights. All those travel sites, like Travelocity or Kayak, can be really tempting. They give you the freedom to mix and match airlines, and sometimes you're able to score an extra low price. However, my experience has taught me to book with the airline directly if at all possible. If you end up having to change your flights, you'll find that customer service with the airline is infinitely better than it is with a travel site. That's where Google Flights comes in. If you've never used it, imagine having the power of the Google search engine to search every airlines' flights to find you the absolute best price options. Plus, the calendar feature allows you to see the price differences in everyday you fly. Let's say a flight on Wednesday costs you $300. That same flight on Thursday instead might end up being only $250. Boom. 50 more bucks in your pocket to go towards the trip itself.
- Get a credit card. For some reason, prior to graduating college, I had a terrible view of credit cards as though just by having one I would somehow rack up tons of debt. So when I say this, keep in mind that I don't make this suggestion lightly, and if you have trouble budgeting, then ignore what I'm about to say and just move on. However, if you are like me and have a very stringent savings plan, a credit card can be an awesome way for you to score some travel points. If you're considering getting a credit card, I've got some "sub-tips," if you will, down below:
- Set up a payment schedule. Some people adamantly support paying off your credit card in full every month. This is a good idea if you worry about remembering to pay your bill, but in actuality, paying in full every month doesn't really help or hurt you in the short run. Your credit score takes into account the amount on your last billed statement, so whether you paid that entire $100 off or not, your credit score doesn't care. So with that being said, if it fits your budget best to pay off 2/3 of your trip the first month, and the last 1/3 the second month, then go for it. Just make sure you always pay more than the minimum amount, have more than enough in your bank account to cover those expenses, and never let them get out of control.
- Make sure you use your credit card on something each month. I tend to view credit cards as being there for those big purchases or emergencies, but it's important to use your credit card on at least one purchase each month. Remember when I said your credit score doesn't care if you pay off in full every month? It does care if you're using your potential credit. As counter-intuitive as it seems, almost maxing out your credit card can be better for your credit score than not using a credit card at all one month. However, I don't exactly promote maxing out any cards (see tip above). A good way to make sure you consistently build credit is by using your card on consistent purchases that you know you'll be able to pay, like on gas or groceries.
- Now for the travel related part of the credit card. There are tons of cards out there that give you airline points or deals on travel. I personally use American Express Gold Card for Delta Skymiles, but before you take the plunge, make sure you do your research to find what's right for you. Think about if you have a preferred airline with which to rack up your points, the interest rate, and where you'll be able to use the card. Also make sure you look at minimum payments. Ads that say "Get 50,000 airline points by signing up today!" look really tempting, but you'll probably have a minimum payment that you have to make within the first 3 months, usually $1000 or more. Basically, just be smart and know your terms and conditions before tying your finances to anything.
Cheers! (and happy travels)