For college students who go to school far away it can be especially expensive to come home for the holidays. With most colleges doing separate Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, some students are faced with the problem of picking one or the other. As a current student who is from Illinois, but goes to school in Pennsylvania, I am always faced with choosing which holiday I have to skip out on. Flights can run anywhere from $250-$500 depending on when you decide to purchase them. That can really make or break your monthly budget. While seeing my family twice would be nice, I also have to think about books, food, rent, and other expenses I could use that money for. In other cases, students do not have a place to go for the holidays and are essentially forced to pay to go home. Of course, this is not a bad thing, but it can be financially straining for families who cannot afford it. For those students who have to come home for the holidays or just want to go home for both, I’ve have created a students guide on how to find cheap airfare, how to make your travel easer and cheaper, and how to save up money for your trips.
Tricks to Cheap Airfare
Finding cheap airfare is about 90% of the hassle when it comes to airport traveling, and it’s even more important to broke college kids. We all want to pay the lowest prices to fly, but the question of how always pops up. As students, we have it a little bit easier. There are many websites tailored to give students cheap airfare and student discount offers. On top of student discounts, there are a few more tricks that are important to know:
- American Airlines offers student discounts for specific colleges. They have partnered with these schools to give students a break on airfare. Not only can it be used for holiday travel, but think about booking with them if you plan on going on an island getaway for spring break. Check to see if your college is on the list!
- Take advantage of some other student discounts from websites like studentuniverse.com and STA Travel. StudentUniverse focuses more on flights, while STA Travel is more helpful when it comes to tours, trains, and hotels.
- Jenna and Micah, who are travelers and bloggers of Wander The Map, share how they are able to save money on flights. “One of the biggest ways we save money on flights is by accumulating frequent flier miles. When booking award tickets, we’ve been able to fly roundtrip in the U.S. for just $5 pp which covers the taxes and fees. A few ways we earn miles are through sign on bonuses for credit cards, joining dining rewards programs, taking surveys through websites such as e-rewards in exchange for points, and using airline shopping portals when making purchases online.”
- The golden question of cheap airfare is: when do I book my flight? Well, the more flexible you are the better. And I know that everyone says that, but it is honestly true. According to JohnnyJet, the best time to travel for holidays is the week after Thanksgiving and the week after New Year’s. These weeks are known as “dead weeks” because people don’t really fly during them. Everyone is staying home, spending time with family, and scoring as much homemade food as possible before they go back to crappy dining hall meals.
- When searching for flights, look at alternate airports. I almost always fly out of Trenton, New Jersey (TTN) airport instead of Philadelphia (PHL) because I can score $150 round trip flights to O’Hare (ORD).
A Lesson On Luggage
Packing at midnight when you have to be at the airport in five hours is all about the spirit of traveling! But do you know how to dodge those luggage prices? Luggage is definitely something that can cost you a pretty penny if you don’t watch out. Girls, packing too much into your checked bag can result in overage costs around $50-$75 if you’re over the maximum weight. And make sure you stick to that 3 ounce liquid rule or your limited edition Victoria’s Secret perfume will get taken (I’m still mad about that). The good thing is that you can save yourself some money with luggage if you know how.
- The day before your trip, most airlines will send you an email with the option to check in online-do it! Especially if you are planning on checking in a bag, sometimes you can get discounts for checking in online. When I fly with Frontier, they tend to give me a $10 discount if I pay for my carry on (yes, Frontier makes you pay for carry ons) when I’m purchasing my ticket. Then I receive a $5 discount if I do online check in (if I haven’t already paid for my carry on).
- The most obvious and cheapest option is to avoid checked in bags all together. One bag can run you up $30 and that could easily buy you a new outfit or four burritos from Chipotle.
- Now, you have to be careful and attentive when it comes to carry on bags. Airlines are NOT the same when it comes to carry ons. They all differ in measurements, what qualifies as a carry on, and if they even allow free carry ons. It is important to check with your airline before you arrive at the airport and find out your bag is too big so you are forced to check it in. Check out eBags if you need to shop for any new luggage.
- If you are allowed a free carry on, then really try to stick to only packing a carry on. Free is the best you can get when it comes to traveling!
- Struggling with an airline that doesn’t allow free carry ons? Consider packing light! My most recent trip to the Philadelphia area, I opted out of paying for a carry on because it was $60 round trip for that bag. My trip was only for five days so I only took the essentials. You are allowed a free personal item and a back pack does qualify as that item. It’s going to be difficult, but if you wanna save money it has to be done. You do not need heels in the winter and you won’t need that “just in case” sweater if you’re heading to Florida. Trust me.
- Last, avoid packing travel sized products and just buy them when you arrive at your destination. You will save some room in your luggage where you could substitute that space with a couple extra shirts!
Making Travel Easier and Cheaper
These next tips will make sure you don’t spend any unnecessary money while at the airport. It’s easy to miss breakfast and opt for McDonald’s hashbrowns, but don’t make it a habit so you can cut down on airport spending. But if you don’t make use of any of these tips, at least remember one: Don’t. Shop. At. The. Airport.
- Super big airport hack to cut down on spending money on bottles of water: bring an empty water bottle to fill once you get into the terminal. Many people don’t know that it’s a thing, but you will save yourself a couple bucks.
- Bring TSA approved food as snacks for layovers. I bet you weren’t aware that you can bring sandwiches, fruit, trail mix, granola bars, and cookies if they’re all packaged properly. Check out this article from Consumerist for more approved and prohibited foods.
- Hitch a ride with a friend who lives near the airport! One of my good friends from college lives about 20 minutes from the Pittsburgh airport so sometimes I would ask to stay the night at her house and then she’d drop me off the next morning for my flight! She also let me keep my car at her house since airport parking is expensive and bothersome.
- Use public transportation. Not everyone can get lucky and have a friend like me who will drive them to the airport so use the second best option! From buses, trains, and even Lyft there are plenty of ways to save yourself from driving your own car and paying for parking.
- If you must park, and that’s if you have literally run out of every single option and even called your friend’s grandma to drive you, then try to park at off-sites. They are cheaper and sometimes even offer shuttles to and from the airport. Another option is to look for hotels that offer hotel airport parking packages. You may pay $100 for a night’s stay, but if the hotel comes with free airport parking (and at $30 a day for parking) you’ve already got your money’s worth after four days!
- Look to see if your airport has free Wi-Fi! Many times you wind up waiting for a connection flight or get delayed, and the last thing you want to do is pay for the internet. At least if you know ahead of time that there is no Wi-Fi, you can load movies and web pages and all the necessary things before you head out the door.
- And in case it wasn’t clear enough before: avoid shopping! Second to food, this is one market that can make or break your airport budget. I promise that you don’t need that “I Heart NYC” shirt or that cute new purse. It is marked up a lot because you are stuck at the airport! Shop for souvenir goodies outside of the airport because it will be a whole lot cheaper.
How To Save For Flights
- Start now! You know you have to buy flights eventually, so put aside some of that summer job money. It is hard to see that money sit in an account not getting any use, but you’ll be thankful in the future when you go to book those flights. Put away $20-$50 every paycheck because, realistically, we all know how hard it is to save when you’re young and want to buy everything in the world.
- Get a job at school. If you’re unable to save enough money over the summer, go job hunting in your college’s community. That extra money can also come in handy with gas, food, and bills.
- Save constantly. Essentially, you will be creating a great habit for your future self. If you live far away from your college, then you know that you will have to book a flight one way or another. Whether you are an incoming freshmen or a junior, start by saving year round. It is inevitable that you will be spending money on a flight.
- Use money saving apps and websites. FatWallet has just launched a cash back app that can help you shop and save on the go! Scoring extra money from places like Walmart, Amazon, and even Chegg for those pricey textbooks can really come in handy.
When traveling is expensive and hard to afford for everyone else, it may seem impossible to college students who are constantly broke. I fly about 10-15 times a year between school, breaks, and vacations with family so I am always searching for ways to save money. Snagging cheap travel does not have to be a myth if you know how to travel smart. Hopefully these tips and tricks can be applied to your next trip and save all you college students some money and headaches!