Ask the Expert: Going Home Without Going Broke

Airplane jetting across the globe

By OYO Credit Card and Travel Expert Jason Steele

Being on your own often means moving away from home for school or for a job. Along with the rush of exploring a new city comes the expense of returning home to reconnect with family and friends.

These travel costs are a great place to start saving when you are making every effort to be frugal.

Here are a few top tips for planning your next trip home:

  1. Book early. To get the lowest fares on the most convenient flights, you are going to want to book your trips more than just a month or two in advance. Students who need to fly home for Thanksgiving and winter breaks will want to have their flights locked down in the summer before returning to school and spring break trips are best booked the year before. If you are trying to use your frequent flier miles to book an award trip you will want to start searching even earlier, as much as 11 months beforehand.

    For example, a flight from Denver to Atlanta is typically about $200-$300 round-trip when booked several months in advance, yet within a month or two of major holidays or spring break, that price can more than double.

  2. Consider everyone. Don't just shop at one or two airline websites, or visit an online travel agent such as Expedia or Orbitz, because you may not always find the lowest fares. Some discount airlines only sell tickets on their own website, so you have to look to see which carriers serve your airport. Wikipedia actually is a great resource for this. Look up the airport’s Wikipedia page for a list of airlines and destinations. Sites such as Orbitz and Expedia will not show flights on discount airlines such as Southwest and Allegiant because their flights only can be booked by going to their websites.

    If you are staying within your region, you should also consider discount bus services such as Bolt and Megabus, as well as Amtrak train service. It might take a few hours more, but you could save hundreds of dollars while avoiding parking charges, airline fees and the hassle of airport security.

  3. Look at all of the fees. Before booking a flight, make sure you know all the fees you might have to pay. Almost all airlines charge for checked bags and some now even charge for carry-on bags as well. For example, Spirit Airlines will charge $45 - $100 for a carry-on bag while Frontier charges $30 -$60.

    So if you found a flight on Spirit or Frontier for $70-$100 less than other carriers, you would only be saving money if you were able to travel without any bag at all. What's worse is that these airlines charge more for bags the later you pay for them and some travelers are surprised to find they must pay more to bring their bag than they paid for their ticket. So consider all of these costs before booking your ticket and note that Southwest and JetBlue still allow you to check a bag for free.

  4. Be careful with credit cards. One way to save money on airfare is to sign up for credit cards that offer frequent flier miles as a sign-up bonus and as a reward for spending. This can work but you have to be very careful. First, most airline credit cards have a minimum spending requirement before new cardholders can earn the bonus miles. Meeting this requirement can be a challenge when you are on a budget and the worst thing you can do is make unnecessary purchases in the pursuit of credit card rewards. Overspending can also get you into debt and these reward cards will have higher interest rates than nonreward cards. Finally, finding available frequent flier awards can be nearly impossible especially at the peak travel times around school break and the holidays.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]