Cheap Student Travel Guide

The average college student does not have a lot of extra cash lying around for student travel, so finding great cheap tickets is essential if you plan to make it home for Thanksgiving or head to the beach on spring break.

Here are a few tips to save you money on airfare so you still have enough for books (and by books we mean beer)

1. When to book student travel: As with most things in life, planning ahead can save you money. You can generally take a peek at your school’s calendar to find out when the semester starts and ends, as well as the dates for winter and spring breaks. Airlines generally start discounting seats three to four months before departure, so use that math to figure out when you should start researching cheap tickets. When you are ready to buy a plane ticket, remember this: Tuesday at 3 p.m. ¬†EST is when the maximum number of discounted seats are available – so that is the best time to have your credit card out. Also, avoid procrastinating when shopping for airfare: airlines jack up prices for seats for people purchasing tickets within two weeks of the departure date.

Read more about when to buy airline tickets.

2. When to fly: While exam schedules and campus housing might make it tough to leave early or stay on campus an extra day or two, if you do not need a specific departure date, you will generally have more cheap seats to choose from. The same goes for the time of day you fly – if you are willing to fly a red-eye flight or fly on early-morning flights, you can usually find more discounts.

Morning Flight or Red Eye: The Best Times to Fly

3. Stay alert: Sign up for FareCompare Airfare Price Drop Alerts and you will be notified immediately when airfare prices change on your favorite destinations. This service is ideal for college students who have regular destinations.

4. One-way vs. roundtrip tickets: For a college student, purchasing tickets for a trip home can be tricky. Should you buy a one-way ticket to offer you flexibility on the date you return to school? Or, should you purchase a cheaper roundtrip ticket, but then pay a change fee if you decide to return on a different date? For most major airlines, change fees range from $100-$150. However, if you anticipate needing to change your itinerary, consider flying Southwest, which does not charge a change fee. Overall, for a budget-conscious student who can commit to a return date, buying the roundtrip ticket is a no-brainer. But given the high fees for changing tickets (unless you are flying Southwest), if you do not know when you want to head back to school, buying a one-way ticket might make the most sense.

Connecting Flights v.s. Non-Stop: Are Connecting Flights Worth the Money You Save?

5. Checking bags: Students are not necessarily the most lightweight travelers. Chances are, when you are coming home for a break, you will be toting weeks’ worth of clothing, a laptop and books for studying, so one free carry-on is not going to cut it.

United Airlines is now offering passengers a new option: for a flat fee of $249, they now can check two bags per flight every time they fly for a year. Without this package, the first checked bag costs $25 and the second $35, so checking two bags roundtrip would be $120. If a student flies home three times a year, they would be paying $360 a year in baggage fees alone, so the Premier Baggage service offers a savings of $111. The plan does not cover overweight or oversized baggage (so you probably want to ship that big trunk instead). Of course, if you do not plan to fly as often or only need one checked bag, the Premier service would not be a savings. The other way to save money on baggage fees is by flying Southwest, which does not charge for the first two bags.

6. Perks: American Airlines offers a 5 percent discount on land components to college students who book a package with AAVacations. You can also have the opportunity to get 500 bonus miles. A win-win.

7. Student travel websites: There are several sites that purport to find the best travel deals for students. Two worth checking out are STA Travel, which caters to students and young adults who are interested in booking vacations (they focus on international flights), and Student Universe, which only books trips for students or faculty members, and requires a free registration to confirm that you are a student. Verifying that you are a student helps them negotiate better deals, according to the site.

8. Discount cards: There are several companies that offer discount cards to student travelers. Flashing these cards can offer savings on travel rates, lodging, entertainment and more.

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Published: July 16, 2012