Knowing how to fly cheap or even free on weekends and holidays is crucial to protecting your wallet and reserving the few precious days off American workers receive. The problem of course: that is when everyone wants to travel. Finding cheap plane tickets and or even being able to find saver award space when using airline miles is nearly impossible.

Add a wife and kids in tow, and you could easily say goodbye to any vacation slush fund you’ve managed to save up. Today, I’ll share my strategies on how I fly my family of four for cheap, or even free, on peak travel dates.

Use the Right Loyalty Points

Even if you’re a novice in utilizing credit card points or airline miles, you probably know that to use your Delta, United, or American miles, you have to find a flight which has an award seat available. In today’s domestic flying market, you also probably know your chances of finding a saver level award seat on these big legacy carriers on a Friday evening, Sunday, or the days before and after a holiday is almost 0%.

Citi ThankYou points can get you any available airline seat for free.

Citi ThankYou points can get you any available airline seat for free.

Enter revenue based award programs like Southwest, Virgin America and JetBlue. The number of points required for a free ticket is based on the revenue cost of the ticket. If there is an empty seat on the plane, you can use your points to book the seat for free. If you catch a fare sale, which is quite common with these airlines (follow @jetbluecheeps and @southwest on Twitter), you can score yourself a free ticket for relatively few points regardless on how full the plane is.

The same strategy holds true for credit card programs like Citi ThankYou Points and Wells Fargo GoFar Rewards. You can redeem points at a flat rate towards airfare of 1.25-1.6 cents/point. No more worrying about award seat availability, use these points to book a free ticket based on the current cash price of the ticket. The news gets even better as airlines treat these tickets as revenue tickets, meaning you’ll earn airline miles and elite qualifying miles for your flight!

I ended up getting a great deal using points for Virgin America. Photo courtesy of Virgin America.

I ended up getting a great deal using points for Virgin America. Photo courtesy of Virgin America.

Book Tickets Separately

Chances are the flights for these peak times are pretty full, meaning on top of increasing airfare, there may only be one seat left at a certain price in cheap fare buckets. If discount economy fare ‘S’ only has one seat left, and you search for 3 tickets, you’ll end up paying the higher price for all three tickets. Sometimes you can find cheaper prices by searching and booking one seat at a time. I just did this last week when booking a Sunday flight home for my family from South Carolina to Washington, D.C.

Southwest Companion Pass

There are all kinds of resources available to educate yourself on this marvelous tool. Once you earn a Southwest companion pass, you can fly cheap anytime as you have unlimited buy one get one free Southwest plane tickets, whether you pay or use Southwest points to book the ticket. With one tool you cut the cost of a Friday-Sunday round trip itinerary in half.

Practical Application

I am speaking at the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference in Dallas on November 5th. This means my family of four (one toddler requiring his own ticket and one lap infant) needs to fly DCA-DFW leaving on a Friday and returning on a Sunday. Initial flight searches showed fares of $229 per person, or $687 total — ouch.

Beginning price point for a family of 3 DCA-DFW for the weekend was $229/person.

Beginning price point for a family of 3 DCA-DFW for the weekend was $229/person.

Let’s take a look at how I ended up booking 3 round trip tickets and a lap infant for a total of 26,040 points and $16.80.

DCA-DFW
Virgin America Non-stop fare sale
3,273 points and $5.60 per person

I got an e-mail announcing a Virgin America sale to DFW.

I got an e-mail announcing a Virgin America sale to DFW.

DFW-DCA
American Airlines non-stop
16,221 Wells Fargo points redeemed for 1.5 cents/point towards airfare

3 American airlines one way tickets cost me only 16,221 Wells Fargo points.

3 American airlines one way tickets cost me only 16,221 Wells Fargo points.

Virgin American flights for Sunday returning to DCA skyrocketed to $187 each and American flights on Friday going to Dallas would have been $159 each. By dividing the tickets up and booking one-ways on separate airlines, I saved big.

Bottom Line

In contrast to Delta, United, or American who would charge me 25,000 miles per person if a aver award seat was available (which they weren’t for a weekend), I managed to get three people to fly round trip nonstop flights for a minuscule 26,000 points and $17. Next time you’re dreading booking a weekend getaway or holiday tickets, try and use the above tips to lower your cost.

How do you fly cheap during peak times?

Featured image courtesy of Boeing

 

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