Flight attendants often deal with early wake-up calls, unpredictable schedules and long waits due to delayed or canceled flights. But in exchange, airline employees have the opportunity to travel the world for work — and for fun — thanks to generous discounts and deals on airfare.
“To say we are spoiled is an understatement,” said one flight attendant. “But with all these perks, we often like to take things a bit further.” These frequent flyers are constantly looking for ways to save money on travel while minimizing the trials, tribulations and turbulence that come with globetrotting.
Click through to discover the best secrets for saving on travel thanks to the help of flight attendants.
T Is for Tuesday and Travel Deals
Many people don’t enjoy the same deep discounts on airfare that flight attendants get. But one flight attendant revealed the best time to book your trip to find similar money-saving deals.
“Airfare is usually cheaper on Tuesday and Wednesday, as airlines have a harder time filling seats since most people prefer to travel at the end of the week,” said former Southwest flight attendant and current communications specialist Corey Pettit. “Also, most airlines will launch fare sales on Tuesdays. So if you’re looking for a deal, Tuesday is usually the day to look.”
Find out the best time to book every type of flight if you want to save.
Schedule Vacations for Slow Seasons
Flight attendants might be hard pressed to schedule vacation days during traditional holiday and vacation seasons — especially if they’re new to the job. While it can be a drag for those trying to book time off with friends or family, it’s often a boon to their bank balances.
“In terms of saving money, flexibility is key. Be willing to travel during off-peak seasons for some of the best deals,” said Pettit. “For example, I just got back from a five-day leisurely trip to Toronto and was able to book a five-star historic hotel in the heart of downtown for a grand total of $350 because it’s the off-season.”
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Decide If a Low Fare Is Worth the Wait — and Risk
Before you book your trip, it’s smart to compare airfare and wait for prices to drop. This tactic comes with some risks, though.
“Waiting to book at the absolute last minute for airfare and hotels can score you the deal of the century,” said Pettit. “Or, you’ll overpay significantly. It’s a risk and is something I wouldn’t advise doing unless you have a lot of flexibility in your travels.”
“Cruises tend to be the exception to the last-minute rule,” she added. “I’ve never personally booked a last-minute cruise deal, but have seen some for as little as $199 per person for a seven-day cruise.”
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Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Hotel Chain
Who says you have to stay in a hotel on your dream vacation? When she’s not making a work-related trip, Pettit explores vacation booking sites such as Airbnb and VRBO for accommodations.
“Oftentimes, you can get exactly what you’re looking for through a private rental,” she said. “I once rented a two-bedroom brownstone in Manhattan for $100 a night through a private rental agency. If you’re afraid of something that sounds too good to be true, a quick search on TripAdvisor can help you decide if your accommodation is being represented truthfully.”
Pack Like a Loser
Losing your luggage is an expensive mishap that can break your budget. You’ll likely have to replace your clothes, toiletries and anything else you chose to bring on your trip.
“The greatest travel tip I got was from my mother many years ago,” said Amber, an American Airlines flight attendant. “She’s retired from AA. She always said, ‘Always pack [your bag] like you’re gonna lose it.’ Don’t pack all your favorite things in your suitcase — you might never see them again. This worked out well for me when all my bags fell off a ship into the English Channel. True story.”
Prepare to Gate Check Your Bag (If Needed)
If you want to avoid airline baggage fees, bring a bag that will at least fit in an overhead bin. And don’t be tempted to ditch it at a convenient curbside check-in site that will charge an extra fee, said Amber.
“Nine times out of 10, you can gate check it for free,” she said. “Agents usually make a ‘check your bag for free’ announcement before boarding.”
Turn Patience Into Perks
Volunteering your seat on a plane can be one of the easiest ways to upgrade your vacation without paying extra.
“Never be afraid to volunteer for a later flight if you aren’t busy,” said Amber. “You can usually score a pretty decent voucher for a future flight. Or, sometimes, it even means they might put you in first or business class for your current flight.”
Always Pack a Lunch
Bringing food on board can be a money and sanity saver, especially in unforeseen circumstances, said Gina Ballard, a former flight attendant with Virgin America.
“If you have special needs with food, it is best to prepare your own food, especially for kiddos,” she said. “Never, never, never expect the airline to have something you know you will need. It is best to bring that yourself. Major example: milk for kids. Bring boxed or powdered milk if you know you are going to need it.”
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Get a Crew Cooler for Long Trips
Although many get discounts at hotel restaurants while on work-related trips, some flight attendants also pack rations to use while on the road, saving both time and money.
“Purchase an eBag, freeze food and it can stay good up to three to four days while traveling,” said Ballard
A travel must-have for frequent flyers, the eBag brand offers a crew cooler and other travel accessories originally designed for pilots and flight attendants.
Take Public Transportation
“I am a lot more adventurous than some and prefer to take public transportation in most of the cities I visit,” said another Southwest flight attendant. “It’s cheap, you get to see a lot and you get to truly live like a local. You’ll also meet a ton of people who are more than willing to direct you to a secret, locals-only restaurant or bar. Heck, I’ve even been invited to dinners and parties while on the bus, though I haven’t taken anyone up on those offers yet.”
Grab a Groupon for Food and Activities
For vacations or other trips during which they know they’ll have time to venture away from the airline-arranged hotel room, many flight attendants search the internet for deals on local restaurants and fun activities you can do for free.
“Food is one of the highest costs when traveling,” said the Southwest flight attendant. “I like to search Groupon for deals in my overnight cities. I always find somewhere I haven’t been that piques my interest. I often [also] look for things to do. In many cities, you can find a walking/biking/Segway tour to introduce yourself to the area. You can also find gyms, spas, cooking classes and all sorts of other things to do — all at a discount.”
Skirt Restaurant Tourist Traps
Former flight attendant Ballard likes to travel anywhere from five blocks to a mile outside traditional tourist areas when she’s having meals on the road. Travelers who do the same can find unique dining options while also cutting costs, she said.
“Find small, local eateries versus touristy restaurants,” said Ballard. “You’ll save money and get delicious food, typically.”
Get Creative With Hotel Room Cooking
“You can make good use of the iron in your hotel room, like for making hot sandwiches and quesadillas,” said Ballard. “But the gook gets stuck on the iron, staining your clothes, so always double-check your iron in hotels before you use them. A flight attendant just might have been in there before you doing the same.”
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Search for WiFi Coupons
If you need to stay connected but want to cut costs, Ballard suggests searching for coupons from your scheduled flights’ service provider. And for frequent business travelers, a monthly subscription might make sense.
“Consider purchasing internet on a monthly fee, and share it with someone else who also travels often but separately,” she said.
Study Your Cell Options
“Get an unlocked phone so you can buy and use SIM cards in each country you go [to], or use a plan that offers its subscribers text and data in various countries at no extra charge,” said Ballard.
For areas with easy access to free WiFi, consider downloading apps that don’t carry additional international charges. For example, “you can use WhatsApp instead of texting,” said Ballard. “And it’s free when you are abroad.”
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