8 Money-Saving Hacks Major Airlines Don't Want You to Know
Travel costs are up, but you can still save cash.
Airline travel is on the rise, and so are prices. In fact, NerdWallet reported that prices are up by 34 percent since the summer of 2019. It's not just standard inflation causing the price increase, either. Airlines are getting sneaky about the ways in which they're making more more, including adding fees on things that used to be free or raising rates on existing costs. While some of this is unavoidable, there are some money-saving secrets that can help your bottom line.
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Get familiar with the new cancellation policies.
Needing to cancel a flight happens for all sorts of reasons. In those situations, know that you often have some recourse. For instance, Dan Gellert, travel expert and COO of Skiplagged, notes that the U.S. government requires airlines to provide a 24-hour free cancellation policy (so long as the flight is at least seven days out.) That means you can cancel within 24 hours of booking any flight.
"Additionally, many airlines have changed their fees around changing or canceling a flight," he adds. "You need to check each specific airline, but many now allow you to change or cancel your flight for free, as long as it is not a Basic Economy ticket."
Understanding these cancellation policies can save you money in the long run by not forfeiting the amount you spent in scenarios when you need to adjust a flight time or cancel altogether. You can also cancel and rebook a flight that's cheaper, which may save you hundreds of dollars.
Don't cancel a non-refundable ticket.
Some airlines don't allow for changed or canceled tickets. If that's the case—and if you're outside of that 24-hour window—don't cancel the flight.
"It's better to simply be a no-show rather than calling to cancel," says travel expert Justin Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Govy. "In the scenario of a flight cancellation or schedule change—[which has been on the rise recently]—you may be entitled for a credit or refund. Had you canceled the ticket, you wouldn't be entitled to anything."
This is a bit of a risk, but it could save you money in the long run. If a delay or cancellation occurs, call the airline to request a refund. Johnson says it'll likely be in the form of credits. Also call the airline afterward if you have a return flight, because it may cancel the return if you no-show without explanation.
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Look into "Hidden City" flights.
A hidden-city flight is a flight where you get off at a layover city versus the airline's final destination. So let's say you need to get to Phoenix from New York City. The ticket may actually go all the way to San Francisco, but has a layover in Phoenix.
"The average traveler that purchases a hidden city ticket saves $128, and many save thousands of dollars," notes Gellert. The Skiplagged search portal is actually dedicated to finding these fares for you, which makes the process a cinch. Just be aware that you can only bring a carry on when taking a hidden city flight.
Know what you're entitled to.
Be aware of federal regulations and specific airline policies relating to canceled flights, changes, and missing/delayed baggage. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a full refund in the case of any canceled flight by the airline, as well as a refund in cases of significant schedule changes or delays.
You're also entitled to a refund if your class of service was altered, or if you were unable to use a service you paid for, such as checked baggage, seat selection, and in-flight WiFi that was spotty or unavailable.
There's also plenty of recourse in the case of an MIA or lost suitcase. Not only are airlines required to refund you if the luggage was declared lost, but many also have policies in place that provide you with some form of compensation. For instance, American Airlines reimburses for any necessary items you need while without your bags (like clothing and toiletries), and United does the same and will pay a flat $1500 per lost bag.
Report damaged suitcases.
In the same vein as above, make sure to report severe damage to suitcases caused by airline handlers. Many airlines have policies in place that will reimburse you for the damage or provide a check for the cost of a new bag. There are some exclusions—such as normal wear and tear—but if your suitcase is severely damaged or largely unusable then file a complaint immediately.
Be proactive about avoiding fees.
Airlines make a good chunk of their money off fees. In 2021 alone, fees brought in billions on everything from checked bags to seat selections.
"We recommend doing some planning to know exactly where the airline is going to charge a fee and plan as much as you can in advance to avoid these fees," says Gellert. "Fees can include printing a boarding pass at the airport, overweight bags, or charging for headphones or airplane snacks."
Many airlines won't show mercy even on the tiniest thing—like a bag being a pound or two overweight—so be mindful of the rules they set. A little planning can go a long way to save you money. In some cases, you can use your airline miles to pay for things like seat upgrades, and being a credit card holder for the airline often comes with perks like free checked bags.
Forget what you've heard about buying tickets on certain days.
You might have heard that booking a flight on a specific day or time of day will save you money. This isn't a rule of thumb, says Johnson, so broaden your search times so you have more visibility into price fluctuations and then book when the cost is at its lowest.
Flight aggregating websites like Kayak and Skiplagged have price tracking features that allow you to keep tabs on fluctuations, and they'll even send you an alert when prices to your destination drop.
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Book if there's only a couple seats left.
It may sound like a "scare tactic" that pushes you into booking, but pay attention when an airline notes only a few fares are left.
"There are dozens of different fare classes—not just first and economy," says Johnson. "When you see the 'one ticket left at this price,' that really means there's one ticket left in that fare class. Once it's gone, it jumps up to the next fare class and you'll see a price jump."