Big Family Travel on a Small Budget
How our big family of 7 finds cheap flights on budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, Southwest, Breeze and Avelo. I’m going to share all our tips and tricks for traveling with a large family on a small budget, how to find the cheapest flight prices possible, and how to minimalize all those extra hidden fees.
Since moving to Florida, we definitely miss the Fall season that we had while living in Michigan. We recently scheduled two quick trips to Michigan and Boston, where we scored 7 cent tickets (now that’s a cheap flight!). We checked the color charts to see when Fall colors were expected to be at peak season this year. Because colors are usually the most vivid mid to late October, we started looking for flights at the beginning of September, which put us around 42 days out.
How to Find Cheap Flights
I’m going to break down our step-by-step process to find the cheapest flights possible:
- Head to Google Flights: google.com/travel/flights *This will show all airlines options available except Southwest
- Select “one way”
- Enter your departing airport
- Enter your destination airport. *If you’re flexible you can enter the city or state (this will search the entire area, not just a specific airport)
- Click on the departure time which will open a calendar view. *This calendar will show the LOWEST TOTAL price for a one way ticket available that day
- If you have flexibility in your schedule, you can choose the days that are lowest to fly
- Once you select the day that has a low fare listed, you can see the list of airlines that are flying that day and what flights are available. You can scroll through the options to see if the low price flights will work for your schedule. *Note: there are other flights that day that may not be as cheap, you need to scroll through to find the lowest price that was seen on the calendar.
- Purchase one way at a time (not round-trip) to see the lowest price
- Sometimes you can save additional fees by going in person to the airport to purchase your tickets. We have found it depends on the employee you get and how well they understand the system. You must make sure there are tickets available online and visit the airport when the ticket counter is open.
Other Things to Remember
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when hunting for rock-bottom prices:
- In our experience, flight prices are usually cheapest around 42 days out. Prices will be higher further out and at the last minute.
- Prices will change DAILY – watch for changes!
- Mid-week is usually the cheaper time to purchase
- Stay away from purchasing on the weekend
Tips for Flying Budget Airlines
Don’t be afraid to pack light and fly a budget airline. Budget airlines like Spirit get a bad rap! Don’t believe everything you hear. Are they tight? Yes. Are they stingy with their amenities? Yes. But, we have flown Spirit and Frontier almost exclusively as a family for the past 10 years and we’ve never had a canceled flight or major disruption in our schedule. There are a few key things to keep in mind when flying budget airlines:
- Adjust your expectations. A budget airline is like the city bus of the sky. There are no added amenities. You will have to pay for everything extra, including water. You won’t be able to recline your seat and the tray table in front of you may be non-existent. You may feel like you’re crammed in like sardines, but it’s really not that bad, I promise! Remember, budget airlines and private jets all have to follow the same safety regulations here in the United States. Safety is not an added amenity, it comes standard on all airlines.
- If you have to check a bag or pay for a carry-on, it might not be worth it. We fly budget airlines because we’ve learned the secret to packing light and going without all the fancy bells and whistles. The second you start paying for additional bags, bottles of water, snacks or assigned seats, you might as well fly any other airline. These things all add up!
- Read up on specific bag size limits. We don’t usually pay for checked bags or carry on items. But you better believe we’re going to maximize every inch of that space they give us for a free personal item! Be cautious of this, they will probably check your bag size before you board. If your bag is too big, you will end up paying top dollar for a carry-on at the gate.
- Don’t pay to reserve your seat. Check-in online or through the app, 24 hours out. About 99% of the time, our family has been seated all together.
- Pack an empty water bottle to fill once you’re through security, or purchase one before boarding the plane. Remember, everything will be an additional charge onboard the plane, so pack your own snacks, drinks and meals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does going in person to the airport to purchase tickets, really save money?
A: Sometimes you can save additional fees by going in person to the airport to purchase your tickets. We have found it depends on the employee you get and how well they understand the system. You must make sure there are tickets available online and visit the airport when the ticket counter is open.
Q: Does Google Flights include all airlines?
A: Google Flights show every airline except Southwest. Southwest only sells directly through their own website.
Q: How big is a free personal item allowed to be?
A: You will need to check specifically with each airline as they are all slightly different. In our experience, we’ve had no issues with standard size backpacks. They can’t be large hiking backpacks and they can’t be stuffed so full that they’re busting at the seams. Keep in mind, this is the one and only bag you can get for free. If you have a small purse, it must fit inside this bag, it can’t be in addition to it.
Q: Do diaper bags count as a free personal item?
A: Check with your specific airline. Many allow an additional diaper bag (that does not count against you as a personal item) when traveling with an infant.