For college students who go to school far away, it can be costly to come home for the holidays. With most colleges doing separate Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, some students have the problem of picking one or the other.
As a current student from Illinois who goes to school in Pennsylvania, I am constantly faced with choosing which holiday I have to skip out on. Flights can run anywhere from $250 to $500, depending on when you purchase them. That can 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 on it. In other cases, students do not have a place to go for the holidays and are forced to pay to go home. Of course, this is not bad, but it can be financially straining for families who cannot afford it. For students who have to come home for holidays or go home for both, I have created a guide on finding cheap airfare, making your travel more accessible and affordable, and saving money for your trips.
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TRICKS TO CHEAP AIRFARE
Finding cheap airfare is about 90% of the hassle of airport travel, and it’s even more critical 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. Many websites give students cheap airfare and 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 other student discounts from websites like studentuniverse.com and STA Travel. StudentUniverse focuses more on flights, while STA Travel is more helpful regarding tours, trains, and hotels.
- Jenna and Micah, travelers and bloggers of Wander The Map, share how they can 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 roundtriproundtrip in the U.S. for just $5 pp which covers the taxes and fees. A few ways we earn miles are through the 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 fly during them. Everyone stays home, spends time with family, and scores 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 roundtriproundtrip 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 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 of 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 email you 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 value 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 an 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 altogether. One bag can run you up $30, which could easily buy you a new outfit or four burritos from Chipotle.
- Now, you have to be careful and attentive when it comes to carrying 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 essential 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, stick to only packing a bag. Free is the best you can get when it comes to traveling!
- I am struggling with an airline that doesn’t allow free carry-ons? Consider packing light! On my most recent trip to the Philadelphia area, I opted out of paying for a carry-on because it was a $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 backpack does qualify as that item. It will be difficult, but if you want to save money. 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 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 of extra shirts!
MAKING TRAVEL EASIER AND CHEAPER
The following tips will ensure you don’t spend unnecessary money 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 use 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 it’s a thing, but you will save a few bucks.
- Bring TSA-approved food as snacks for layovers. I bet you weren’t aware that you could bring sandwiches, fruit, trail mix, granola bars, and cookies if they’re all appropriately packaged. 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 following day for my flight! She also let me keep my car at her home 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 car and paying for parking.
- If you must park, and that’s if you have 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! You often 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 that there is no Wi-Fi, you can load movies, 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, food is one market that can make or break your airport budget. I promise 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 the airport because it will be much cheaper.
HOW TO SAVE FOR FLIGHTS
- Start now! You know you must buy flights, so save some 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 cannot 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 an excellent 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 freshman or a junior, start by saving year-round. You will inevitably be spending money on a flight.
- Use money-saving apps and websites. Couponlab has just launched a cash-back app to help you shop and save on the go! Scoring extra money from places like Walmart, Amazon, and even Chegg for those pricey textbooks can 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, splits, 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!