Unless you live within driving distance or your airport has a discount carrier with direct flights to Vegas, one of your biggest expenses for your Las Vegas trip may just be your round trip flight. With fuel prices rising and airlines adding on fees for everything from checked bags to window seats, what’s a budget-conscious traveler to do?
There are several ways you can try to save money on flights. Depending on the market you live in, these strategies may or may not work. (By “market,” I mean how many airports you have within driving distance of your home and how many airlines nearby service the Las Vegas area.)
Today, in part I, I will cover some general strategies to keep in mind. Because this blog is primarily for those who are embarking on their first solo trip to Las Vegas, these tips are basic. If you’re already a “travel ninja,” you may be bored by this. But feel free to add your own tips in the comments section! (Just no commercial links, please.) In part II, I’ll list some specific online resources I use that may be helpful to you as you hunt for cheaper flights.
Time vs. Money
Typically, the more money you spend, the more time you can save, and vice versa. You need to decide up front which is more important to you: Saving money or saving time. Most of us can’t do both.
When I have more time than money, I start pricing flights months in advance of my trip and continue to monitor them on a weekly basis until I’m ready to book. Also monitor industry news; airline experts often issue warnings if they believe airfares are going to go up or down in the future. Check prices both at airlines’ own websites and also at other travel booking sites. Sign up for emails from airlines and monitor their social media accounts for deals. Compare flight and hotel packages you find with how much each component would cost if you bought them separately.
Sometimes you can find last-minute flight deals. But generally speaking, the longer you wait to book your flight, the more you’ll pay. (This depends on the market you live in; if your home airport is saturated with flights to Las Vegas, you may be able to push your luck.) I live in a non-hub market with little airline competition, so I tend to book 3 months in advance of my trip.
When it comes to airfare, flexibility rules. If the weekend is looking pricey, try a weekday flight. Going to Vegas over a holiday? Flying on the holiday itself is usually cheaper than the days before and after. (I’ve flown on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.) If you’re one of the lucky devils who can sleep on a plane, take a redeye; they’re usually cheaper.
Look at Alternate Airports
I live one mile from my local airport. I’ll pay more for the convenience of being in my bedroom 5 minutes after collecting my luggage at midnight. But I know people who will drive from Vermont to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, or even Canada for a cheaper flight.
Use Multiple Airlines
You don’t have to book your round trip on the same airline. I’ve saved money by booking one airline to Las Vegas and a different airline home. Last September, I used my TrueBlue Rewards points for a free flight on Jetblue to San Diego (where I spent a couple of days), then flew Southwest (which was dazzlingly cheap) from San Diego to Las Vegas, then booked an inexpensive flight home on Continental. Cost of airfare for that trip was about half what it normally is to fly round trip between Vermont and Las Vegas, and I got to visit San Diego to boot!
Use Frequent Flyer Miles
That’s a no-brainer, right? Which leads me to….
What is travel hacking? To oversimplify it, it’s the accumulation of free flights/frequent flyer miles without earning them the hard way. I’m no expert in travel hacking—most of the things you have to do to accumulate miles seem like more effort than it’s worth to me—but I have used one trick I learned by reading up on travel hacking.
Most airlines have credit cards that offer flyer miles/rewards based on your credit card spending. If there is an airline you fly often, wait until that credit card is offering a lot of miles for signing up and do so. Last year, I signed up for the Continental card—which has since become a United card—when it was offering 50,000 free miles. That, combined with the miles I’d already accumulated over years of flying Continental and United, have now combined to put me over 100,000 miles. This will give me a free flight to someplace really good next year.
A real travel hacker would cancel the card before the annual fee kicks in at the end of year one. But I think I’ll hold onto mine. The card comes with 1 free checked bag per flight, which would normally cost $15. Since I have trouble packing everything I need into a carry-on, this is a $15 savings for me every time I fly. Plus I rack up points for travel whenever I use the card. That’s worth it for me.
I’ve only done this once but would do it again for the right offer. Many travel hackers sign up for every card that comes along offering a bonus for sign-up. I’m a little leery of this, because I have an excellent credit score and I’d like to keep it that way. If you plan to chase credit card sign-up bonuses for flight points, please do so responsibly. Once your credit score takes a hit, it takes a long time to get it back to a good place. I pay off my balances every month so I’m not hit with interest charges and only have cards I know I’ll use.
Those are my general tips for saving on airfare. In Part II of How to Save on Vegas Flights, I’ll list some specific websites that might help you save money.
All right, frequent flyers: What are your strategies for saving on flights to Vegas?
Today’s post was sponsored by TravelVegas.com. TravelVegas is a discount travel site offering the latest hotel, show, and entertainment promotions for Las Vegas. To find the best deals for everything from meals to the latest casino offers, download their free iPhone app before your next Vegas trip.