Cheap Domestic Flights

Finding cheap domestic flights is perhaps even more of a dark art than getting a good deal on international flights for me lately. I’d rather pay a hefty sum to cross the Atlantic or Pacific than the same amount to bound across a few only semi-interesting states. At least a continent change is worth selling blood, plasma, and bonus internal organs to cover the ticket.

Actually, if I had a halfway efficient vehicle, I probably wouldn’t even fly domestically. A temporary romance with gloved goons in airport security just has a way of taking the magic out of a Fear-and-Loathing-style roadtrip somewhere west of here.

Unfortunately, when I do fire up my aging, V8 5.0-liter engine, Arabs increase oil production (and high five), baby seals scream in Canada, and an iceberg melts in Antarctica. I may as well take a 747; our carbon footprints are roughly the same.

During a layover in Chicago last year, I met an older gentleman who had been wearing a fedora since before it was hip. With a reminiscent twinkle in his eye, he shared stories of flying around the U.S. on $50 tickets. Despite being retired, he still dressed his best to fly. The guy just oozed class and life experience.

Per the gentleman, flying back when Sinatra was jet-setting around the U.S. was one big party. Even when flying for leisure, men wore suits, choked the cabin with smoke, and drank like it was New Year’s Eve.

People passed out from too much fun on their flights rather than bad movies or deep vein thrombosis.

Women roamed about socializing with sidecars and Singapore slings in gloved hands, while attendants offered a wink and a smile with edible food. Compared to the pretzel-slinging, grumbling service I got on Delta last year, I can only daydream about what it was once like to actually look forward to a flight as a fun activity.

Then again, who can blame the overworked attendants when nearly half of our domestic airlines in the U.S. are either bankrupt or heading that way fast?

So, while finding cheap domestic flights is not easy, here are three not-so-secret tips that I frequently use:

  • If flying domestically in the U.S., I tend to check first, just to use as a benchmark to price my flight. Be warned, however, that despite being one of my favorites, they are very guilty of trickery to get you to book flights. Notice how many times the flight price is exponentially higher both before and after your departure date? That’s not an accident. People see the higher prices and feel more pressure to book immediately. Also, checking for a flight multiple times without booking will eventually make the price creep up a little. Try reseting the cookies in your browser, or use a different computer then compare prices. Sneaky!
  • Sign up for frequent flier programs — seriously. Accumulating miles does take a while, but it does eventually pay off. I’ve flown to Florida and Alaska for free just by using Skymiles.
  • Check budget airlines for cheap domestic flights on their own sites. Our budget airlines in the U.S. are AirTran, Spirit, Frontier, Virgin, and my personal favorite: Southwest Airlines. Maybe meds are distributed to the staff before flights, but each time that I’ve flown Southwest, the attendants have been lively, lighthearted, and even cracked jokes over the intercom.

So while searching for cheap domestic flights may be not be easy, to quote Morpheus from The Matrix: “…some rules can be bent, while others can be broken.” Don’t give up!

Just for fun, read about my bizarre flight to Bangkok via Japan last year.