By Mark Albert, Editor-in-Chief: The Voyage Report

In my ongoing quest to visit every country in the world, I not only want to depart smart, but depart cheap. My goal is to save as much money as possible on airfare and hotels so I can invest more in experiences and food and once-in-a-lifetime adventures at my destination.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to take two weeks and spend $5,000 each time I want to travel abroad. Thankfully, we don’t have to anymore! In this era of low cost carriers challenging legacy airlines and their traditionally higher fares, explorers and adventures can often fly roundtrip from North America to Europe, Asia, and South America for under $500—frequently on big-name carriers that are racing to respond to their upstart competitors.

In 2017 alone, airlines worldwide hauled in a record $82 billion in passenger fees and other ancillary revenue; that’s a 264% increase since 2010. So since carriers seem to be doing just fine, I’d prefer not to give them a single extra penny when I travel—and I’m sure neither would you.

As a longtime journalist, I’ve researched how to see more of the world for less. Using what I’ve learned, I managed to score roundtrip tickets to Peru for $295, Australia for $300, and Paris for $471.

Here are some top tips to help Depart Smart readers also save money when you travel:

  1. Change the Day you Book:

    A recent study found that the day of the week you shop and book your tickets – along with the day you ultimately fly – can save you a lot of money. Typically, booking most economy tickets on a Sunday will result in the lowest average ticket price and departing on a Thursday or Friday “is the best recipe” for the lowest fare, the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report found. Here’s another calendar tip: from both the U.S. and Canada, the cheapest cost for international airfare was for trips in February; the most expensive month from the U.S. was December, while for Canadian departures, July was the most expensive. Of course, there are always exceptions, but picking a different day of the week to book and fly may result in a bargain.

  1. Book First, Plan Second:

    The number one mistake people make when they find a deal is to plan the trip before they book. But by the time you have agreement from your family, your boss, your babysitter, your dog sitter, and your letter carrier, the deal will likely be gone. So if you think you may want to go on a trip at a crazy low price, book the fare first to lock in the fare, and then figure out if the dates, times, etc., work for you and your companions. But if the fare is non-refundable, why would you want to book without knowing if you can definitely go on the trip? Because thanks to U.S. Department of Transportation protections, all airlines that have a website “marketed to U.S. consumers” must either allow you to reserve a ticket for 24 hours or cancel within 24 hours for a full refund. All major U.S. carriers now offer the latter: a 24-hour cancellation period. Delta goes even further: you have until midnight of the following day to cancel for a full refund. So we recommend you consider booking first, planning second because a deal can be gone in a flash (read more about your rights while flying here).

  1. Use Airline Gift Cards:

    If you know you’ll be buying airfares for an upcoming trip, you can save up to 10% by buying discounted airline gift cards in advance from third-party resellers, such as GiftcardGranny, Cardpool, and CardCash and then redeeming those gift cards on an airline’s website to pay for the tickets. It can save you hundreds of dollars. Let’s say a family of four plans to buy economy tickets to Budapest, Hungary to experience the magical Christmas markets in December. I once booked that ticket for $462 roundtrip during a flash sale. So for a family of four, that would total $1,848. If that family had purchased $1,848 of the airline’s gift cards from a third-party site at a 10% discount, that would have saved them $184—plenty of cash to pay for meals and handmade gifts at those outdoor Budapest markets or even a night or two at a hotel. And just imagine if the family had paid full price for the tickets, perhaps $1,000 a piece a more. That savings would then equal up to $400 on a $4,000 purchase.

  1. Beware Consolidator, Bulk, and Basic Economy Fares:

    We sometimes call these “sneaky fares.” It may be tempting to book a jaw-droppingly low airfare, but be forewarned: you may not be getting all the perks and services you expect if you purchase a certain type of ticket. Consolidator and bulk airfares are typically when resellers buy tickets in bulk to then markup for a small profit. However, you may not earn redeemable or elite qualifying miles on your airline because of that fare class. You’ll have to call the airline directly to check. In the case of basic economy fares, which the three U.S. legacy carriers—Delta, American, and United—are rolling out almost worldwide, they can come with even less amenities, such as no checked baggage, no use of overhead bin space, last zone boarding, no advance seat assignments, no elite benefits, and little rebooking assistance in the event of weather or mechanical delays. It may not matter to a growing number of travelers, however. A recent survey found the vast majority of Americans, 83%, said ticket prices—not perks or an airline’s reputation—were “among their chief considerations” when buying personal travel. So you may be willing to give up certain perks to save $20-$50 or more per ticket. But remember: caveat emptor. Buyer beware.

  1. Book Separate Tickets:

    Let’s go back to the example of our family of four traveling to Budapest. Most families in that situation would search for four tickets at a time. But that may cost you. If there are only three tickets left on a particular flight at our sale price of $462, an airline booking system will usually bump all four tickets up to the same price; in this example, it would be a higher fare. So, instead, the family may want to book three tickets at the sale price and the fourth by itself. They could save hundreds of dollars by booking it that way. Just be sure to call the airline after your purchase to make them “link” the separate reservations (PNRs) so the carrier knows you’re all traveling together (an airline reservation is technically known as a PNR: passenger name record).

  1. Purchase One-Way Tickets:

    A 2017 study found more and more travelers are buying two one-way tickets instead of a roundtrip to save money. “The long-held belief that it is always better to purchase a roundtrip ticket is not always true in today’s market,” Airlines Reporting Corporation found. In fact, ARC found one-way purchases have now grown to 42% of all tickets bought—nearly half. So when shopping for a trip, compare the price of a roundtrip ticket to the price of two one-way segments. You may be surprised!

  1. Book Like a Pro:

    Know where to look for flash sales, mistake fares, and unpublicized deals. Our hour-long video eCourse, “How to Land an Airfare Deal” teaches you step-by-step how to find the elusive airfare deals without relying on those “sale” emails from the airlines that are usually anything but. We also teach you how to book those tickets before the attractive price disappears.

  1. Learn How to Save Money and Depart Smart:

    Combined with the tips on how to travel safely from Depart Smart, The Voyage Report e-Course will transform the way you travel. Don’t ever pay too much, or travel without a safety plan, again! Start saving right away: Depart Smart readers can use coupon code DEPARTSMART to take 30% off the Voyage Report’s e-Course, “How to Land an Airfare Deal” and VOYAGEHERO for 30% off Depart Smart’s travel safety certification to help you avoid risks, get help and home with “Travel HEROES Safety Certification” so you can travel like a HERO with a safety plan!

Bon voyage! Safe Journey!

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Mark Albert of The Voyage Report.

Mark is a Peabody Award-winner who has reported in newsrooms across the country, most recently as a freelance correspondent at CBS News. He’s traveled to 60 countries so far and plans to get to the rest—with a little luck.