Cheap Flights for College Students

Need to get your college student home for Thanksgiving or home for the summer? There are things you can do to minimize the impact on your wallet even during the busiest travel seasons so study the following tips carefully but don’t worry – there won’t be a quiz.

Things Your Airline Won’t Tell You

1. Airfare 101

When to shop: Best day of the week to shop is Tuesday, specifically about 3 p.m. eastern time. By then, all airfare sales have been launched and other airlines have matched the lower prices to stay competitive. Tip: Sign up for airfare alerts because some sales and special deals come out of the blue.

When to fly: Typically, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and often Saturdays. You can’t always make this work due to exam schedules but even if you can only fly one cheaper day, you’ll still see savings.

Are You Game? 4 Risky Ways to Save

2. Connecting Flights vs. Non-stops

A good way to save during holiday periods and other times of year is to forget about convenient non-stops and fly less expensive connecting flights. Non-stops can add as much as 10% to 20% to your airfare total; why not use the savings for books and tuition instead? And don’t worry about the rigors of connecting – if college kids can stay up all night studying (or whatever), they can endure a multi-flight trip.

3. Know the Cheapest Airports

Rule of thumb: The bigger the city, the cheaper the flights in and out of its airport. Bad news for those in small to mid-sized cities but if there is a hub airport near you – or within a couple of hours driving distance – it could be worth your while. Always compare prices to multiple airports. For example, Yale students should check prices from Hartford and New York, then factor in the cost of gas and parking fees before putting a final price tag on flights.

4. Connect with Social Media

Most airlines are active on Facebook and Twitter and some offer special deals exclusive to social media followers. Bonus: If problems arise with a flight, many airlines respond most promptly to questions/concerns via Twitter.

Hidden Secrets on Airline Websites

5. How to Find Special Deals

Sometimes, college students and others can score with discounts from sites like Groupon or LivingSocial. Virgin America and others have advertised specials on such sites from time to time, so be sure you sign up.

And low-cost carrier AirTran has a program called AirTran U which offers students between the ages of 18-22 discounts on standby flights. However whether AirTran’s new boss Southwest continues this program when its integration with AirTran is completed is anybody’s guess.

6. Save on Baggage

Best baggage tip: If a student is starting school or finishing up for the year, use a carry-on bag and box up most belongings so they can be shipped via ground transportation – you’ll save a bundle. If you must bring larger luggage, pack carefully since checked-bags are monitored for size and weight and any deviations can cost you dearly.

Consider the following example which is especially noteworthy for students starting school or finishing up for the year. Prices shown are from United’s website (but are the same or close to the fees charged by American, Delta and US Airways).

  • Two checked-bags under 50 pounds each: $60 one-way
  • One checked-bag 50-70 pounds: $125 one-way
  • One checked-bag over 70 pounds: $225 one-way

Even English majors can do this math. Alternatives: JetBlue gives you one checked-bag for free and Southwest gives you two, but make sure the airfare is cheap enough to make it worth your while – this is why FareCompare always recommends you shop an airfare comparison site.

7. Dress Responsibly

Airlines can and do refuse to allow passengers to fly if their clothing is deemed too skimpy or if messages on T-shirts are considered too provocative.

8. Holiday Tips

TSA lines will be long and busy during Thanksgiving and Christmas, so don’t slow things down by carrying bottles of water (they’ll be dumped) or wrapped gifts (they’ll be unwrapped) but rules on snow globes have eased and such normal-sized souvenirs are now OK at security.



Published: November 2, 2012