by Sarah Peachey

When it comes to travel, most military spouses are experts. We know how to pack light (most of the time), load a car completely full and book tickets. With the holiday season quickly approaching, plenty of people will opt for flights over driving. Do you know how to find some of the best airline flight deals? How about other areas to save money? Here are tips to guide you through deals, savings and easy flying:

Always compare available flights. Whether you use Orbitz, Travelocity or Kayak, you always want to compare with other providers when shopping for the best deal. I like using Kayak to compare the top providers, but I also search on the actual airline’s website. Sometimes the airlines offer special short-term deals that the other providers can’t. In my past searches, I’ve always found Orbitz to be the best travel site. If any other site has beaten them, it’s normally only by a couple dollars.

Be flexible with travel dates. This is the most important part of searching for the best fight deal. You need to be slightly more flexible with your travel dates. Here’s an example. I’m flying to Pennsylvania for Christmas. Since I don’t have to arrive at any certain date, I can move my trip up or down a few days and see how the prices change. I planned to fly out on a Monday (one of the busier days to travel), but prices were too steep. I switched to Tuesday and the ticket price dropped by almost $100. Normally, the middle of the week is cheaper, but over the holidays, that may not be true. Change some dates and see which gives you the best deal.

• Try nearby airports. Some of us get very comfortable traveling through familiar airports, but that could be costing you more dough. In Pennsylvania, there are three airports I could fly into with varied drive times — Philadelphia International (1.5 hours), Harrisburg International (45 minutes) and Baltimore (1.5 hours). Harrisburg is always a favorite since it’s so close, but it also costs more. When I search for tickets, I check out all three airports. This time, Philadelphia was the most affordable.

Check with a variety of airlines. Just because you’ve flown with Delta for years doesn’t mean they will be the best option every time. Check out all airlines that fly to your destination to see which offers the best deal.

Don’t be afraid to make a stop along the way. Non-stop flights are often more expensive than if you have connecting flights. You can compare both options to see which is best. It never hurts to have a stop to stretch your legs and grab some grub. Check out the USO, they always have great FREE goodies.

• Don’t overlook your reward points. Plenty of people now own credit cards that carry rewards points. Don’t overlook those! You may want to save up for that cute purse, but those points could greatly reduce your ticket cost. My husband and I bank with USAA (if you haven’t checked out their offers, you need to!). We have a credit card with them and have used our rewards points for quite a few housewares and gift cards. This time, we used every last point to reduce a ticket by 75 percent. We paid only about $100 for my husband’s ticket.

Check out what other deals your bank offers. Sometimes you get great perks form your bank. With USAA, you get great deals on rental cars at Hertz, Avis, Enterprise and Budget. My husband and I rented a car during his R&R through Hertz and I didn’t yet know all the great USAA discounts. When I went to pay for the car with my USAA card, the saleswoman told me a qualified for some deals. She cut the cost of our rental in half. No lie. Sometimes you can even get free upgrades.

Pack light and carry-on. Baggage fees have gotten insane over the last few years. If you don’t have a frequent flyer card or aren’t flying with an airline that waves baggage fees, you want to avoid those costs. Some can be as much as $50 for one bag. If that bag is over 50 pounds, you’ll pay extra. Pack as light as you can, even if it means doing a light load of laundry. You’ll be glad you packed light when you avoid those fees. Carry-on options are great because it’s free and you can avoid waiting at baggage claim. Seriously, that takes ages. You’ll be off the plane with your entire luggage in a jiffy if you carry-on. If you’re concerned about bag dimensions, check your airline’s website. Sometimes they vary.

• Know the rules and regulations. To save time (and embarrassment) make sure you know all the rules and regulations set by the Transportation Security Administration and also your airline. If you’re carrying liquids on board, make sure they are three fluid ounces or less. Don’t take anything through security that could be considered a weapon. This can help speed everything along and save you getting pulled out of line.

Wear appropriate clothing. This can also help you save time going through security. Nowadays, you don’t need to remove all metal items — you can still wear jewelry through the metal detectors. Remember that you need to remove any loose fitting tops like jackets or sweaters. Try to wear a slip on shoe if possible. I once went through a security checkpoint where a woman was wearing these strappy heels that had multiple buckles. It took her a while to get them off and back on. I always wear boots, clogs or ballet flats to make it easy.

Traveling with pets.  I have flown with my three year old Dachshund quite a few times. She does great on the plane with the help of a light sedative. If you’re traveling with pets, make sure you know the regulations. Buy an airline-approved carrier. Sherpa makes a great carrier and they will pay for your flight costs if you’re told the carrier isn’t correct. It’s the only carrier I’ve ever used and it works great. You’ll also want to get a health certificate from your vet no more than 10 days before your departure. Some airlines require it, so it’s best to have one just in case. Most vets are familiar with the process.

When you’re getting ready for your next flight, try out these tips. You’ll be pleased with the money you save and the deals you find. If you have any helpful flight tips, please share them below!