These are two words that don't always go well together. After all, most of the things associated with traveling are pretty expensive- hotels, airfare, rental cars, eating out. But, there are ways to save yourself moola from these activities. Since I've been traveling a lot lately and it's reduced my other hounding, I'd like to share some of the ways I've found to do this. And today is... airlines!
Airfare- I like to check sidestep.com, and I hear airfarewatchdog is also an excellent site. But the bottom line is to look around. Even if you try to stick with the same airline, make sure they aren't way above market price for your flight. If you can, buy in advance. About 2 weeks before is a pretty good time, mostly you want to avoid the window within one week of travel. I've found that booking really far in advance is hit or miss because of the speculation of fuel costs in advance, but early is almost always cheaper if you are planning to go somewhere around a holiday.
Baggage- Check the policies before you book! You almost have to think of it as part of the price of the ticket. Some airlines let you check one free, but most charge $15 for your first bag and $25 for your second. So if you're going on a weekend thing and can handle carry-on, no biggie. But if you're checking a bag odds are you need to tack $30 onto your round-trip airfare when you're comparing.
Airline rewards- Always, always, always sign up! Even if you fly an airline only one time, you may earn enough "miles" or rewards to get something that helps you. For example, Northwest's program allows you to get newspaper subscriptions in a lot of cities. I can get the LA times for a whole year for 887 miles if I just want Sunday, or 1000 miles for weekend (Fri-Sun) service. Wa-la! Free coupons for a year from a single roundtrip flight! I get a fair amount of magazines this way too, I'm hoping "all you" will someday be an option on at least one airline.
If you do fly a lot, it's beneficial to stay with the same airline when you can since elite status usually garners you bonus miles to get free flights faster, some forgo the bag check fee for elite, and you are more likely to get upgraded. If you usually fly long flights it may benefit you to pick one which rewards based on mileage. I usually fly shorter flights, so I like Southwest which doesn't care how far the flight is. Also check what the fees are- many airlines now charge $50 to book your "free" flight. Keep in mind where they fly too. I fly Southwest a lot, but they'd be a bad airline to pick for rewards if my goal was to go to Hawaii considering they don't leave the continental US.
Credit Cards- Completely depends on the card and how much you use it. Make sure to check out all the benefits and costs. The ones with annual fees usually give you better rewards, but if you don't use it much it's not enough to defray the cost. Some like Continental also give you benefits like not paying to check your first bag when you have their card, I think Alaska gives you a free companion pass each year which acts as a buy one get one for $50 (booking fee). Only you know what works for you. I don't have any of these cards, but I'll admit I'm considering the Southwest one since I fly them a lot.
Next up will be hotels :-D