The 2013 Low-Cost Airfare Guide

Low Cost Airfare

We've all gone batty for bargains. Even when the economy perks back up, we won't be breaking our cost-cutting habits anytime soon. But no matter how good we get at tracking down deals, cheap plane tickets can still be elusive.

Airfare tends to be the most painful purchase when going on vacation. Although the most you'll get out of a flight is some blurry, aerial photographs you mistakenly thought would turn out stunning (what were you thinking?), a round-trip ticket can cost anywhere from $200 to $2000. All that money and you still get stuck sitting next to a chatty Cathy.

That’s why we’ve rounded up our favorite budget airlines, booking sites, and tips from around the web. We don't want you to do much finger-lifting for the sake of low-cost airfare.

But let’s not waste any more time – there's money in need of saving! Here’s the 2013 Low-Cost Airline Guide. We'll be updating this guide constantly, so bookmark for future reference!

Tips for Getting Cheap Airfare

What Travel Deals Are In Season?

  • Head to Mexico right after Easter; the weather’s great and the crowds are thin. Soak up the Colorado sun in July when the state's not so ski-crazed. When you visit a destination in the midst of its off-season, you’ll find favorable airfare rates (and privacy, to boot).

Rack Up Those Miles

  • If you travel on business a lot, or just love to globe trot, join an airline's frequent flier program.

Cash In on Online Exclusives

  • Follow airlines on Twitter and register for deal alerts at airline and travel booking web sites. With companies focusing on social media more than ever, now’s the time to benefit from some spectacular once-in-a-lifetime deals.

Free Yourself from Fees

  • Airlines make billions of dollars every year on fees – baggage check fees, booking fees, seating assignment fees, you get the picture. Problem is travelers don’t notice such fees until after they’ve been paid out. Read this handy guide to airline fees for more info.

Choose Your Deal, Then Your Dates

  • If you’re working with a vague travel timeline, scout out the deals before picking out dates. That way, you don’t automatically wall yourself off from a seems-too-good-to-be-true kind of deal.

Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays

  • When possible, fly on weekdays – unless of course they double as holidays or unusually busy travel days. (Think Thanksgiving.) However, Saturday is also very cheap for flying, as most people head to their destination on Friday and go back home on Sunday.
cheap airfare

Timing is Everything

You know those to-die-for last-minute deals that you hear about all the time? Well, they really do exist. It’s just that most people aren’t able to literally travel “on the fly” like that. But if you’re all about impromptu getaways, this is where you can really stretch your dollar far. Last minute is really a 21-day window, so even OCD-types can enjoy the savings. Be careful, however. For uber-popular destinations and busy travel days, rates go up last minute. When not booking last minute, book in advance, about four months out.

Get Over the Layover

  • No one likes a layover. However, flights with layovers cost a whole lot less than flights without.

Charter Flights

  • When the major airlines fail you, turn to private charters. Many companies charter flights to and from various points around the globe, and they often have extra room – which means you are welcome aboard (for cheap)!

Switching Flights? Stand By

  • So, plans change and you’ve gotta switch up your flight schedule. Instead of paying upwards of $50 to change a flight, see if you can stand by on an earlier or later flight (for free). However, do your research. Some airline stand-by policies aren’t worth it.

travel agent

Talk to an Expert

  • We don’t mean ask your travel-loving buddy for destination ideas, or turn to your mom for advice on snagging up cheap plane tickets. We do mean talk to a true-blue expert – a travel agent. Many people have overlooked this resource as they use the web more and more to find deals. However, with the information overload that’s inevitable on the internet, travel agents are extremely helpful. They can sift through all the madness so you don’t have to, and they have access to deals you don’t!

Go to the Source

  • Most the time, travelers book airfare through third-party web sites or travel agents. However, sometimes the best deals come straight from the source. Check out the official web sites of all the top airlines and compare their rates to those on booking sites.

Follow Up with Prices

  • Nothing’s more frustrating than paying for a plane ticket, and then watching the prices go down right afterward – however, many airlines and booking sites will refund you money when this happens. It can’t hurt to ask!

One-Way’s the Cheap Way

  • Although you’d suspect buying round-trip airfare to be cheaper than buying two separate one-way tickets, you’d only be right some of the time. Occasionally, buying round-trip tickets can be more expensive than buying two separate one-way tickets. Part of this is just tricky math by the airlines/booking sites. But also, you can control the airports you fly into, the number of layovers you experience, and other factors, when you buy two separate tickets.

car driving

Do You Like to Drive?

Don’t just assume you have to fly into the airport a booking site suggests – sometimes it's more affordable to fly into an airport that’s a little ways from your destination. Find out if adding drive time to your vacation cuts airfare costs.

Try Student Travel

If you’re a college student, you can take advantage of really great airfare deals. The go-to study abroad site is However, even non-students can sometimes take advantage, so it’s worth checking out!


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Best Budget Airlines (by destination)

budget airlines

The Continental US

When to Go

Every single state has its own travel season, due to the huge size of the country and the huge differences in weather from one point to the next. If we were forced to generalize, we’d suggest traveling in the fall or spring, when kids are in school and the Christmas holiday’s not anywhere near.

Side notes:

To Las Vegas
Vacation here on week days if you can, otherwise try June and July.

To New York City
There’s no low season in NYC. So, it’s especially important to steer clear of the Big Apple during the holidays.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare

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When to Go
Bad news is Hawaii’s a trendy place to go, so you’ll always have to worry about expensive airfare. Good news is almost every US airline serves the country, so you have lots of airfare to compare. Like the rest of the US, spring and fall are the cheapest times to visit Hawaii. These seasons are also the most comfortable weather-wise.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
In Alaska’s case, flying is actually the cheapest way to get there. That’s because train and bus travel is a real hassle. No matter when you visit the state, expect the unexpected (weather-wise). Temperatures can get pretty extreme without any warning, so that’s why there’s no clear “off season.” May and September have been historically cheap times to travel, but more travelers are catching on to this fact and so that’s starting to change.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
Mexico’s off season starts the day after Easter and lasts all the way through the middle of December, so that’s your best chance at cheap airfare. However, July and August are exceptions to this rule, especially in the country’s top beach towns.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
For your pick of as many airfare deals as possible, travel just about anytime from April to mid-December.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
It depends on the city you’re visiting, of course. However, both Paris and London can be cheap to fly to during the months of November and December. Paris’s off-season actually extends all the way to February.

If you want big, big bargains, skip out on western Europe altogether and do the eastern side instead – not only is eastern Europe an emerging destination, but it’s affordable right now.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare

From the US:

From Canada:

From within Europe:


When to Go
Again, we’re talking about a whole continent here, so it’s difficult to pin down just one season or month to travel. Summer is rainy and winter is snowy in Japan, so those are cheap times to travel if you don’t mind extreme weather. However, it really comes down to the specific city you’re visiting.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare

From within Asia:

From the US:

Check out for more direction on snatching up deals!

South (and Central) America

When to Go
Winter and summer are pretty busy travel seasons for the continent, so try to visit in the fall or spring. However, if you’re looking to save money, don’t come during Carnaval (in February)!

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
Purchase tickets for the spring and summer if you want the best rates.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


When to Go
Summer is, no doubt, the peak travel season in Canada. However, because many come to ski here, winter’s still bustling. Much like the US, it’s really best to visit Canada in the spring and fall.

Best Bets for Affordable Airfare


Top Booking Sites (& Twitter Accounts)

social mediaIt’s important to compare airfare!

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