The early stages of vacation planning can be super fun. You get to research exciting destinations, weigh the pros and cons of this hotel and that resort, and put together a tentative itinerary that’s far more interesting than your daily grind.
The next part — figuring out how to pay for it all — is less fun. The deeper you get into the details of your travel plans, the more seriously you’ll need to think about saving up for them. You’ll need to be especially attuned to the financial ramifications of major vacation costs like lodging, car rentals, and airfare.
Let’s drill down a bit on that last line item. If your travel plans involve flying, you can expect airline tickets to account for a significant fraction of your total vacation costs. That makes it all the more important to think about saving money for plane tickets as soon as you’ve settled on a destination.
How to Save Money for Airfare in 2021
When it comes to saving money for air travel, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The same strategies that work for savings goals not related to travel tend to work in this context as well. That means finding the ideal savings account for your goal, working to maximize your contributions to and earnings from that account, and temporarily freeing up space in your budget to cover your airfare costs.
1. Open a Savings Account that Earns Airline Miles
What’s better than saving up your hard-earned dollars for your next big airfare expense? Accumulating airline miles instead.
Before doing anything else, get in on the best way to earn airline miles (and free flights) without a credit card and open an FDIC-insured Bask Savings Account.
The Bask Savings Account is the only savings account that earns American Airlines AAdvantage® miles instead of interest. Anyone based near a commercial airport served by American Airlines or its partners — a list that includes most major airports in the United States — is a good candidate to open a Bask Bank account and redeem AAdvantage® miles for free or subsidized American Airlines flights.
Keep reading for more details on earning and maximizing miles with Bask Bank, or check out our Bask Bank review for a fuller explanation of the Bask Savings Account’s benefits.
2. Juice Your Mileage Balance With a Sign-Up Bonus
Bask Bank has one of the best new bank account promotions around, and the only one specifically geared for frequent flyers.
For a limited time, new Bask Savings Account holders can earn 1,000 bonus AAdvantage® miles (airline miles) by depositing $5,000 in new money within 30 days of account opening and maintaining a $5,000 minimum balance for at least 90 days of the first 120 days the account is open.
Bask Bank awards bonus miles within 10 business days, but miles can take up to eight weeks to post to a linked AAdvantage® account. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve given yourself plenty of time to save up for your trip.
3. Take Advantage of Deposit-Based Opportunities to Earn Bonus Miles
This one-time sign-up bonus isn’t the only way to earn AAdvantage® miles with Bask Bank.
Once your account is open, every $1 deposited in your Bask Savings Account earns 1 AAdvantage® mile per year.
Here’s an example of how that works. Deposit $50,000 on Jan. 1, maintain that balance through Dec. 31 without any additional deposits or withdrawals, and you can earn 50,000 AAdvantage® miles through your December statement cycle.
Maintain that $50,000 balance for another full year, and you can earn a total of 100,000 AAdvantage® miles over two years.
You’ll keep earning miles as long as your Bask account is open and carrying a balance, but there’s more you can do to maximize your account’s earning potential.
4. Stick With (Or Double Down On) Your Strategy to Earn Miles Faster
You’ll earn airline miles faster and accelerate your progress toward free or subsidized airfare when you use your Bank Savings Account as your primary vehicle for travel savings.
There’s no need to close your other savings accounts, if they exist. But there’s also no reason not to put every single dollar you’ve earmarked for your upcoming trip into your Bask account. Remember, every dollar in your Bask account earns AAdvantage® miles you can exchange for free airfare or combine with dollars to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of flying American when you’re ready.
5. Automate Your Airfare Savings
This is another savings tip that’s no doubt familiar to financially literate readers. By automatically contributing a portion of every paycheck — say, 10% — to your Bask Savings Account, you’ll remove the risk of human error (or sheer forgetfulness) from your airfare savings plan. All the while, you’ll maintain that steady march toward cheaper or totally free airfare.
6. Set Aside a Portion of Your Tax Refund for Airfare
For many travelers, tax season brings the promise of a reliable financial boost courtesy of Uncle Sam. If you’re expecting a tax refund this year, commit to not spending it all in the days or weeks after.
Instead, allocate anything you don’t need to address urgent financial needs — like paying off credit card debt — to your Bask account. You’ll further boost your mileage earnings and add to your dollar savings balance too.
7. Tap Other Windfalls to Add to Your Airfare Budget
Treat any other windfalls you receive during the year as you treat your tax refund: addressing urgent financial needs first, then depositing the surplus in your Bask account. Every little bit helps, whether it’s a performance bonus at work or a one-time financial gift from a doting relative.
8. Temporarily Right-Size Your Nontravel Budget
Finding fat to cut from a household budget is no one’s idea of fun. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know what needs to be done.
Look for nonessential expenses that you can temporarily live without or do with less of until you’re in a better position to pay for airfare and other assorted travel costs:
Your list might look different from the above, but the point remains: You can do without more than you think.
9. Look for Ways to Earn Extra Income (One-Time or Ongoing)
It’s the golden age of side hustling. Would-be travelers looking for opportunities to earn extra income while working full-time have no shortage of choices, from active strategies like driving for a ride-hailing app or consulting to passive income opportunities like renting out a car or spare space on Neighbor.com.
And that’s only part of the story. One-time opportunities abound to earn extra income, from hosting a yard sale — and decluttering in the process — to selling an old bike or car you no longer use on peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist.
Stretch Your Airfare Savings Further in 2021
These strategies aren’t directly related to saving money for your next airfare purchase, but they could reduce the amount of time you need to spend saving up. If the rest of your travel planning and budgeting work goes well, they’ll help you get in the air sooner and keep you in your destination longer too.
Monitor Airfare Newsletters and Be Prepared to Jump on Good Deals
Subscribe to airfare newsletters that have a history of uncovering legitimately can’t-miss deals on domestic and international flights. I’ve personally saved hundreds on flights with both Scott’s Cheap Flights and AirfareWatchdog, both of which serve up in real-time ticket prices for the cheapest flights their algorithms can find.
Newsletter deals usually cover travel windows stretching weeks or months, so you won’t feel much urgency to travel on specific dates. The catch is that you usually have to buy your tickets within a few hours to not more than a few days after receiving notice of a deal, which is more likely than not to be the result of mispricing (airline error) or a temporary demand imbalance. These deals disappear as soon as the underlying issue corrects itself.
Use Search Engines That Suss Out Cheap Flights
If you’re too impatient to wait around for newsletter deals, use search engines built to suss out the best prices on fares to destinations in North America, Europe, and beyond. I use three in particular: Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Kayak.
Be sure to use these search engines with your browser in incognito or private browsing mode. This ensures the engines and any airline websites or online travel agents to which they direct you won’t retain details about searches you’ve made in the recent past. Those details factor into the algorithms that dictate what fares you actually see displayed and may cause prices to rise on subsequent searches.
Also, if you’re not ready to buy right away, use email or SMS price alerts to find the optimal time to pull the trigger. I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved on airfare simply by waiting for Google Flights to notify me of a price drop on a route I’ve been watching.
Keep Your Travel Plans Flexible Until the Last Minute
This is a lesser-known way to save money on flights but no less potent for it. Airlines want to fill as many seats as they can, even if it means accepting less than they’d like to get for those last few passengers on board.
This makes for plentiful last-minute deals on flights to destinations that aren’t drawing big crowds at the moment, often due to seasonal factors that correct soon enough. (Otherwise popular beach destinations tend to empty out during the rainy season, for example.)
Part and parcel of travel flexibility is being willing to spend longer in transit or to work third (or fourth) cities into your air travel plans. That could be as simple as booking two one-way flights instead of a round trip, a strategy that’s sometimes cheaper than booking the out-and-back in the same transaction. It might involve multiple stopovers or even a “ground leg” — driving or taking transit between two closely situated commercial airports in a big city like New York or a dense urban agglomeration like southern California to take advantage of pricing arbitrage.
Be Ready to Book Through the Airline’s Website
The best flight deals are often found in an unassuming place: the airline’s own website. To avoid commissions charged by online travel agents (flight booking sites), airlines may display lower flight prices on their own sites, enticing travelers to cut out the middleman. This strategy isn’t guaranteed to save you money on airfare, but it’s definitely worth checking sites like aa.com before booking with Expedia or Priceline.
Saving up for your next airfare expense won’t be as fun as planning the trip that follows. But it need not be as painful or drawn-out as you expect, either.
Start off on the right foot by opening a savings account that earns airline miles, not interest, and doing everything you can to maximize its earning power. Follow up with general budgeting strategies that help you save faster and smarter.
As your travel dates approach, embrace other strategies to save on airfare, such as being willing to take a longer or out-of-the-way connecting flight or enduring a longer layover on the way to your final destination, and review best practices to refine your flight search and save money in airports.
Your next flying vacation begins as soon as you’re ready. Why wait any longer than you need to?