Getting airfare bargains like a travel ninja

Nomadic Matt, a self-described "travel hacker," takes readers through a detailed look at how he scores his best deals on airfares. He comparison shops, then tries to beat the best price through the airline's site (include the airline's foreign sites), then checks for better deals by varying his travel dates. It sounds like a lot of work, but he certainly seems to get better airfares than I do.
However, for me, travel hacking is more than that. It is about bringing costs as close to zero as possible. Since only the die-hards really want to spend hours and hours putting together mileage routes that get might get them 100 extra miles or reading the fine print to find a loophole they can exploit, I’ve put together this guide for the casual traveler who still wants to travel cheap but not might have the time nor the desire to be a black belt level travel ninja:
The Ultimate Travel Hacking Guide (via Consumerist)


  1. I refuse to travel by air until the TSA is reined in, the invasive genital-groping searches are halted, I can put a lock on my suitcase without having it cut off in the name of security, and my government stops treating airline customers in the same manner as convicted felons in a maximum security prison. An apology from the TSA agents involved to the people who have been harassed would be nice, but I don’t expect anyone who works for the TSA to have a shred of human decency or the capability to be apologetic.

    1. I’d love to go to the US. I’ve wanted to go for years and finally got a job that allows me to save up for it last year, just as I started to read about the whole TSA bollocks. Now I refuse to go! My last flight to Europe was along the lines of 秀平 月 below. Airline websites are like a joke text adventure now.

      1. Flying to the US is usually pretty easy and problem-free. You’ll be fine. (It helps if you’re from a first-world country and white or East Asian though. Blatant racial profiling is pretty common unfortunately.) Arrive late at night and you’ll breeze through immigration.

      2. Sadly, you come across as high maintenance…and that makes me sort of glad you’re not flying around over here.  Sure TSA sucks, so does immigration…but you just sort of suck it up in exchange for travel.  I may hate filling out timesheets at work, but I have to do it for my job.
        I’m not sure about your comment on airline websites–some US carriers are bad website design, but I wouldn’t call them a text adventure.  If you’re referring to the contract terms, [at least here] they’re all pretty much standard, and the text mostly concerns costs of changes and other things, but if that is a concern, they usually have a quick and easy way to locate higher priced refundable and flexible fares, too.

        Edit–I find travel very easy to do, and here is my trick:
        Airport security and traveling is a game. Come up with some typical stereotype of Americans, then see who in line probably fits that stereotype best. Or guess who of the security workers owns the biggest, silliest looking truck.

        1. The airline websites thing is based purely on UK-based airlines. It’s more of a:Select your destination>A fee appeared!Select your dates>We don’t fly on those dates!Select your dates>A fee appeared!Choose your seats [unless you can find the hidden text on the third page that you get after clicking “Cancel”]>A fee appeared!Choose your luggage allowance>A fee appeared!Would you like online check-in or airport check-in?>Doesn’t matter, because a fee appeared!Confirm your selections>A tax appeared!A fee appeared!A fee appeared!A fee appeared!Would you like to pay by any of the means available for an online transaction?>A fee appeared!It’s like a horrible, horrible joke. The worst part is the airlines have all been told to just stop fucking doing it and they go ahead and do it anyway.As for the high maintenance…I don’t think I am. I’m easy-going and incredibly lazy, and generally put up with most things for an easier life. But the older I get the less I can stand bullshit. If the US is going to be a dick and ignore the fact that its population knows that security theatre is just that, they can stuff it for now. It’ll still be there if they cut the crap within my lifetime.

  2. Traveling as a ninja is free.  They never see you get on or off the plane.  You even get free headphones for the in-flight movie.

  3. Well, I just booked a flight (on a regular non-discount airline) for a fare of 29 euros return. Plus EUR 100 fuel surcharge and another 100 for airport taxes and “security,” whatever that may be.

    There’s only so much hacking you can do when airlines insist on inventing non-negotiable surcharges that they don’t consider to be part of the fare.

    1. There is a whole underground community that has been attacking and ‘negotiating’ surcharges for a few years now.  Some of them are obvious (airline forgets to load a surcharge on a set of fares), while others rely on specific combinations of online travel agents, destinations, airlines, etc that either eliminates undesired fare components through either use of travel rules or imperfections in programming code.

  4. When I was in college I worked part time as a baggage handler for a major airline just so I could get the flight benefits. First class flights to Paris and London for $25, day trips to NYC for $10. Flying standby wasn’t much of a problem as long as I scheduled my flights at off-peak times. Yep, life was a pretty sweet fruit back then.

  5. I think the linked to post is a good attempt for beginners, but this flight hacking process seems cumbersome.  These are great ideas for the casual traveler who wants to buy everything on sale, but falls flat on its face for someone who wants more than a couple of decent deals to typical locations each year.
    As I tell friends, self imposed restrictions on each of the following affects price: airline, seasonality, day of week, time of day, number of stops+routing, length of stay, and airport.  You must prioritize what matters: personally, I start driving a couple of hours or flying non-preferred airlines when fares are 4-500 savings off of the typical. 
    In the listed example, the author has already picked out season and travel dates.  To me, that is a non-starter for trying to find good fares.  What if it is cheaper to fly on the weekends or 3 months from now instead?  You don’t need to brute force hack airfares, since there are tools to cull through the data for you.  Try farecompare’s sortable search to find published airfares, and matrix to check availability on specific flights:
    The one caveat to these tools is that you’ll miss unpublished airfares, which are usually from Low Cost Carriers (southwest, some jetblue, and apparently the airlines featured on this search). 
    However, LCCs tend to range from no mileage earning to smaller programs with few partners.  The author highlights FF miles as a way to fly for free, but doesn’t mention that with the found fares.  The EI fare shown is $120 more than the lowest, but might earn $70-140+ in miles.  I just found a nonstop on CO for $664 in early Nov, with elite bonuses, you could earn double the above listed valuation of miles, plus the elite status may give free lounge access or free checked bags on future travel.  
    Now who is the best deal to choose?

  6. I hope all you cheap flyers are at least offsetting your massive carbon footprints. Nothing you can do contributes to climate change like jet travel. Fun as it may be, in a few decades there may be nothing worth flying to if we don’t change our ways.

    1. Why target just the cheap flyers?  What about those who fly across the country on business every single week, or private jet owners?
      That aside, I take issue with carbon offsetting.  I see it on the same lines as indulgences: feeling guilty about the sin?  No problem, just pay someone else to say it is ok!
      Personally, I’m no saint here, but I balance my jet fuel addiction with an older fuel efficient car, living in a higher density walkable neighborhood, minimizing wasteful use of AC, and other measures.

  7. Guys!  Guys!  Airlines have different prices for the same flights!  One of them is sure to be the lowest!  If you take that one, you’ll spend less money than if you’d chose the most expensive!  Tell all your friends about how I’m, like, a ninja!

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