Shop Smarter

You know the quip: What makes an airplane fly? Money! Sometimes, it seems, lots of money! 

But aviation isn't the only money-hungry pastime. Just about every component of life costs money, sometimes lots of money. So, how can we, as pilots – as consumers – get good value while spending less money? By shopping smarter.

Analyze Needs and Wants

As we discussed in an earlier column, being a Frugal Pilot (or Frugal Anything) means first separating needs and wants. Remember: At the grocery store, a need is buying milk, bread and other food staples. A want is getting soda, corn chips and snack cakes. In recreational aviation, a need is something required to meet your flying goals and your budget. A want is not required but desired. Wants aren't bad things. They're just not as critical to aviation safety as needs. So prioritizing our needs and wants is the first step in shopping smarter.

Determine Value

The best way to prioritize the things we buy is by first determining their value toward reaching our goals. How much value will that new GPS-gadget add to our safety and enjoyment of flying? Is there another unit that will give us as much value for a lower price? Is a used or refurbished unit a good option or is it false economy? Remember that a frugal pilot is not a cheap pilot. Nor is a frugal pilot unsafe. A frugal pilot is one who makes common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar.

Seek Discounts

If you do any kind of shopping, you've noticed that the same product can be sold by many retailers and nearly as many different prices. MSRP is the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price and retailers often use it as a starting point for discounts to attract customers.

Some manufacturers don't allow much if any discounting on more unique products such as those we pilots buy. However, there still are discounts available, even if it is free shipping or a satisfaction guarantee. Other retailers offer discounts who make more or larger purchases such as Frequent Buyer programs. Or their ads say "Call us first for the lowest price." Still other sellers have daily, weekly, or monthly deals that can save you money on what you want.

Be Ready to Buy

Smart shoppers avoid impulse buying, but once they have chosen a quality product to buy they stay ready to buy, watching for the best deal. That means getting watching publication ads (like GAN), getting on aviation retailer email lists for specials and making sure the funds are set aside for smart purchases.

Of course, not all aviation purchases can wait for a SALE. But by analyzing your flying needs and wants, and determining value, you can make better purchase decisions in a hurry as well. You may not get the best price ever, but you can get the best price now.


Sometimes the best way to get the best price is to ask for it. Give the seller a reason to give you a discount, such as: You are my favorite aviation retailer, I've purchased all of my avionics/supplies/books from you, or I'm on a budget and could use a discount. It's best to first identify who may have discount authority and ask that person. Make that person feel good about offering you a good deal.

If you're buying something bigger, like an airplane, prices aren't always set in stone and discounts or price reductions are expected. Again, ask. If you don't feel comfortable negotiating, ask one of your friends or relatives who is to help you with the purchase. You can sometimes determine a "typical" discount offered by a seller by analyzing the asking-versus-final prices on prior sales.

Do Your Homework

Another technique for shopping for aircraft is to thoroughly do your homework. Find out what similar aircraft are selling for, determine if there are any STCs that you will have to face as the new owner. Look for any information than can help you impress the seller that you are a knowledgeable buyer who wants value. Shop smarter.

Shopping smarter can work for anything you buy. The advantage it offers to aviation consumers is that every dollar you save is another dollar you can spend on avgas! Fly more and spend less as a frugal pilot.