Mr. Thrifty’s Proven Strategies to Save Money on Air Travel

How to save money on air travel

Yes, savers, it is possible to save money on air travel without compromising your travel plans.  We’re not here to repeat the rather obvious advice you will read at other websites – fly indirect, travel in the offseason, use frequent flyer miles (!), etc. And, The Ultimate Guide to Low-Cost Airlines remains a must read.   Rather, if you want to save money on air travel by travelling where you want, when you want, follow along for Mr. Thrifty’s proven strategies.    First, some reality: (1) these strategies are not a silver bullet – they will not work all of the time, but they work frequently enough that they are worth trying and (2) you are most likely to save when booking international flights (there are only so many ways of saving when booking a flight from Ottawa to Moose Jaw).  With that said…..

Use a Meta Search Engine.  

Airline websites are good and you may ultimately choose to book your travel directly on an airline’s website but the key to saving money on air travel is to start off with a meta search engine.  Mr. Thrifty’s search engine of choice is Google Flights.  Use Google Flight’s Calendar View (hint: Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the cheapest days to fly, followed by Thursday and Saturday) and Price Tracker functions, which will allow you to sign up and receive an automatic notification when the price for your selected route changes. Skyscanner is also a good choice, particularly for travel within Europe.

Price Both Round Trip and One-Way Options

Even if you are flying round trip, pricing two one-way tickets will give you more potential options and will allow you to potentially save money by flying on a different airline for each leg of your trip.

Price Tickets in More than One Currency.

Check the International Edition of an Airline Website.

Google Flights will automatically check the price on the Canadian and U.S. (or International) editions of an airline’s website and, depending on how volatile the Canadian Dollar has been, you may be able to save substantial money on air travel just by exploiting the differences in the exchange rate applied to your ticket.  If you find a deal in another currency, double check the Google Flight price on a site such as Expedia or Priceline – Mr. and Mrs. Thrifty frequently travel between Canada and the U.S. and sometimes have found multiple USD prices on the same flight, varying by as much as 15% between sites.   

Use a Credit Card that Does Not Charge a Foreign Currency Conversion Fee.

If you do book in a non-Canadian currency, Mr. Thrifty recommends using a credit card that does not charge a foreign currency conversion fee – after all, there is no point in saving money on air travel only to hand that deal over to your credit card company. If you are booking in U.S. Dollar on the U.S. edition of an airline’s website, consider using a U.S. Dollar Credit Card.

Sign Up for Alerts from Different Travel Sites.

The days of airfares changing once or twice a week when the airlines uploaded fares to their websites are long gone. Pricing is dynamic. Fares can change by the minute. Give yourself a chance against the airline pricing strategies by taking advantage of the tools that exist. The Google Flights Price Tracker is one tool.

Mr. Thrifty also recommends signing up for alerts from the “Y” Sites, which track deals originating from your local airport. Mr. Thrifty is partial to Yow Deals however there are deal sites specific to Montreal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ) and others. Mr. Thrifty recently booked a returned ticket from Ottawa to India for an astonishingly low price $446, thanks to an alert from Yow Deals.

Scott’s Cheap Flights, recently mentioned in this New York Times article, is another source of deals on international travel. Similar to the “Y” Sites, you register for deal alerts by specifying your departure airport(s) of choice. Scott and his team then do the rest of the work and send you an e-mail alert when a deal arises. Scott has a free basic membership as well as a premium membership (which costs $49 per year). According to this review from The Points Guy, the free membership gets you about 1/3 of the deal alerts as the subscription service, and you get them a bit later than premium members. But you can’t beat free!

Consider a Restricted Fare, Particularly for a Short Haul Flight

There are pluses and minuses to a restricted (often labeled “basic economy”) fare. The lower fare is often offset by one or more of the following: no (or costly) advance seat selection, higher change fees (or non-refundability of the ticket), fewer frequent flyer points and a more restrictive baggage allowance. Some of these restrictions may be overcome by using the right credit card. Regardless, on a flight of, say, 1.5 hours or less, consider whether these restrictions are outweighed by the lower fare. (Side note: Mr. Thrifty once flew on a rare courier ticket from the U.S. to Europe and only recommends it for the truly adventurous !).

The restrictive baggage allowance is usually a top factor in deciding to choose a regular economy fare. However, for the prepared traveler this shouldn’t be something to worry about — follow our recommendations for personal items, carry-on bags and packing accessories and you will likely be able to fit more than enough in your restricted allowance.

More Controversial Options Worth Considering.


What is Skiplagging, You Ask ?

Well, that’s why you’ve come to Mr. Thrifty – to learn about non-traditional saving options. Skiplagging, or hidden-city ticketing, is a travel technique where you save on airfare by booking a ticket through the place you actually want to go, and get off there.  For example, let’s say you want to travel from Toronto to Miami to attend the Super Bowl but the flight prices are ridiculously expensive.  You may be able to travel Toronto-Miami-Dallas, and get off the plane in Miami, for a substantially cheaper fare.  Sounds dodgy ?  Well, it kind of is !  But that’s just the type of gamesmanship created by airline pricing algorithms. 

How to Find a Hidden City Ticket.

There are some websites dedicated to finding these deals, such as Skiplagged.  And there are practical restrictions (don’t check a bag, for example ! though Mr. Thrifty has you covered there), some of which may sound kind of like the rules to Fight Club, that these websites will discuss in more detail.

Throwaway Ticketing.

What is Throwaway Ticketing, You Ask ? 

It’s another tool in the saver’s booking arsenal (but less controversial than Skiplagging).  As mentioned, in our recommended (main stream) techniques, searching for separate one-way fares can help you to save money on air travel.  Would you believe that some airlines, particularly European carriers, sometimes price a return ticket for less than a one-way ticket ?  So, sometimes you can actually save money on a one-way flight by booking a round trip ticket and using only the one-way, outbound portion ! 

How to Find a Throwaway Ticket.

Skyscanner seems to have this built into its searching algorithm.  Mr. and Mrs. Thrifty saved a bundle on Iberia flight from Bilbao to Madrid using this technique booking directly on Iberia – so we recommend checking the airline websites directly.

A Word to the Wise.

Skiplagging and Throwaway Ticketing are “controversial” for a reason – airlines don’t like either technique, and a cursory internet search will likely pull up some stories designed by the airlines to scare off potential participants. However, Mr. Thrifty has used these strategies to save money on air travel — and you can, too, so long as you do not give into scare tactics and fake news. These strategies remain valuable tools in the saver’s toolkit.

Other Savings Tips.

Save money at the check-in counter by using the right bags and packing accessories — we have some suggestions in our recent post on our Favourite Summer Travel Gear. And, remember, saving money on air travel is only the start of your savings journey. For more money saving suggestions, don’t forget to read our guides on How to Save Money When Exchanging Currency and How to Save Money on Hotels. And, in the unlikely event your flight is delayed, read our guide to Compensation for Flight Delays in Canada and our recent Case Study on AirHelp, a useful service option for all travelers.


  1. Very cool stuff. I live in Ottawa but was in Toronto on business and booked a return ticket from Toronto-Cuba on Air Canada Rouge, knowing that the return flight was Cuba – Montreal – Toronto. I just skipped the unnecessary connecting flight Montreal – Toronto and took the bus back to Ottawa. I guess this was a form of skiplagging?

    • Precisely ! Terrific example of skiplagging for Canadians. Thanks for mentioning it in our forum.

      Others are encouraged to share Canadian skiplagging savings stories !

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