The ball drop tomorrow night will cap a fun-filled and exciting year in the travel world, and for the Thrifty Traveler team.
In the past 12 months, we’ve grown into an even larger company. But our mission hasn’t changed: We want to help you see the world for cheap, see the value in using points and miles, and understand the confusing world of airlines, hotels, and travel as a whole.
And we think our most popular stories from this past year reflects that. Here’s the countdown to our top stories this year:
10. The Battle of Basic Economy Fares: American vs. Delta vs. United
We did it for you, readers.
Basic economy fares are unavoidable flying today. But every airline handles them a bit differently, with varying restrictions around what you can bring onboard, where you can sit, and other considerations.
That’s why we spent a day flying basic economy on all three major airlines – American, Delta, and United – back-to-back-to-back. We compared these no-frills fares on a handful of different criteria, from booking and baggage allowance to the check-in process to seat selection and the in-flight experience.
One airline came out the clear winner, but there’s plenty to keep in mind no matter which of these airlines you fly.
9. Check TSA Wait Times Before Security with the MyTSA App
It sounds simple, and it is.
This free smartphone app can help you avoid the guessing game that comes with clearing airport security. While far from perfect, it will give you a sense of how long you may have to wait to clear security at your airport before an upcoming flight.
8. How to Beat Delta Basic Economy
No-frills basic economy fares have spread like wildfire, and they’re here to stay. Whether you’re flying for a half-hour to a nearby city or across the Atlantic to Europe, Basic Economy fares are a reality.
Delta and other airlines have gotten better at making clear what’s included – and what’s not – in these fares since they first launched in 2012. But they’re still punitive: Basic economy flyers on Delta board last and don’t get an advanced seat assignment or a checked bag.
The key to beating Delta basic economy is easy: Get a co-branded American Express credit card. Just by holding one of these cards, you get a free checked bag and priority boarding.
7. Delta Drops SkyMiles Partner Award Rates, Down to 15K to Europe!
Delta SkyMiles giveth, and Delta SkyMiles taketh away. This recent development was some rare good news for using your SkyMiles.
While the award rates you’ll pay when using SkyMiles to fly with Delta are all over the map, it’s different when using SkyMiles to fly partner airlines – those rates are more stable. And Delta made an unannounced cut to those rates this month, dropping the price to fly Air France, KLM, or Virgin Atlantic to Europe down to just 15,000 miles each way. Rates to fly to Asia on other partner airlines also saw a cut, though not as drastic.
This means you can now fly to Europe and back for just 30,000 SkyMiles. That’s a steal, as most airlines typically charge at least 60,000 miles – and Delta often charges much, much more.
6. The 15 Craziest Flight Deals of 2018
Who doesn’t love a great flight deal?
Clearly, all of you did, because our post spelling out some of the craziest flight deals from 2018 blew up in a big way. And when you look at some of these fares, it’s no wonder.
There was the crazy, $560 round-trip business class mistake fare to Asia. Many of you booked the $238 mistake fare to Croatia first sent to Thrifty Traveler Premium members, too. There were plenty more mistake fares and flash sales, too.
5. Bad News: Delta’s Huge Expansion of Basic Economy SkyMiles Awards
Basic economy fares are unavoidable flying today. And unfortunately, Delta has gone a step farther than other airlines.
Delta began selling basic economy fares on select domestic award tickets in late 2018. Those spread to almost all domestic routes in early 2019. And in November, the airline took it even farther with a massive expansion.
We broke the news that the airline began selling basic economy award tickets on flights to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America.
4. Maximizing Your Delta Companion Ticket with the Platinum SkyMiles Card
Travel rewards credit cards can come with some great perks. But few are better than a buy one, get one free flight.
That’s a perk you get from the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express card, one of the best among Delta’s suite of co-branded credit cards. Starting your second full year with the card, you get an annual companion ticket good for one round-trip, economy cabin fare.
But putting this benefit to good use isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Our guide helps decode how it works, and helps you find the best ways to maximize your annual companion pass.
3. Stop Using Expedia or Kayak: Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Flights
If you’re visiting Thrifty Traveler, you probably like to … you know, travel thrifty. And there’s no better way to find cheap flights than Google Flights.
So it should come as no surprise that our walkthrough to using the internet behemoth’s powerful search engine to find the best flight deals was our top story of the year. There’s just so much value for travelers in using Google Flights to find airfare.
It’s so good and getting better, with constant additions to help travelers eliminate flights with lengthy layovers, and guide you toward the cheapest days to travel. While Google Flights has long been our go-to tool for finding cheap airfare, it solidified its rank as the absolute best in 2019. So it’s fitting that the ultimate walkthrough for Google Flights was one of our top posts of the year.
2. How You Can Still Pick a Seat with a Delta Basic Economy Fare
On paper, flying basic economy means you can’t pick your seat. And that means you’re often stuck in a dreaded middle seat between strangers.
In practice, it’s a much different story. Especially when flying Delta basic economy fares.
We laid out two different ways you can still select your seats when flying Delta basic economy. First, Delta has started selling seat assignments to basic economy flyers within seven days of departure, typically for $29 a seat. That’s a bit steep.
Luckily, there’s another way: When your check-in window opens 24 hours prior to departure, you can move around the cabin to the best of whatever seats are still available. And doing so is free. It won’t always work, and it can require some vigilance. But it’s a great chance at picking your seat for free even when flying Delta basic economy.
1. Flights to Europe Have Dropped Below $300, But For How Long?
There’s never been a better time to be an international traveler.
Flights to Europe dropped to record lows in 2019, and that’s a win for traveling on a budget. We regularly saw round-trip flights to Europe dip below $300 – and sometimes, even under $200. That’s great news, and it’s why we named it one of the biggest stories in travel from 2019.
Members of Thrifty Traveler Premium, our international flight deal alert service, saw this firsthand. But this trend clearly resonated with readers too.
Here’s to 2020, travelers. May it be filled with travel – hopefully cheap, preferably free.