Finding the Best Deal on Airfare – Updated

 

Several years ago, I wrote  How to Get the Best Deal on Airfare .  While many of the tips there are still good information, time has brought about a few changes.  Thus an updated article.  🙂

What HASN’T changed?  Airfare is still determined by the Law of Supply and Demand.  What has changed is the ‘demand’….and because of that, the ‘supply’.  Interpretation:  As consumer’s have purchased more tickets (demand),  airlines have listened and added planes and flights (supply) to meet the need.   That can mean good bargains for travelers.

  1. Time It Right: The best time to purchase airfare seems to be about 7-8 weeks out (more specifically 49-54 days) up to 3 wks prior to travel.  Booking less than 21 or more than 200 days out brings some of the worst fares.aircraft-holiday-sun-tourism-99567
  2. Don’t Pay Baggage Fees If You Don’t Have To:  At this time, Delta, United and American are offering 1 free checked bag per person to their credit card holders IF the reservation is made on their website and paid for with that card.  You can apply for the credit card right before purchasing the ticket.  After approval, you then use that card number to purchase the ticket. These cards typically have an annual fee associated with them, but most (though not all)  waive it for the 1st year.  After that ‘grace period’ we always cancel the card.  I refuse to pay a fee for ANY credit card…..EVER!!   Now, the last time we called to cancel, they offered us a ‘stay with us’ deal. We met their criteria and they waived the fee a 2nd year.  They did NOT offer that option the following year.
  3. Compare Total Costs: Southwest and Jet Blue do not charge baggage fees.  That doesn’tUS dollar necessarily mean their flights are cheaper though.  Sometimes, a ticket PLUS baggage fee is still less expensive than a ticket on one of these ‘no baggage fee’ airlines…  As you’re price shopping make sure you’re comparing the TOTAL COST (ticket + bags).  Note that these airlines don’t sell reserved seats.  Instead, they sell ‘boarding groups’.  You pay to board earlier and get first choice on seats.  Though we occasionally fly with these airlines, I really prefer to have a reserved seat….just my personal opinion.
  4. More Info About those Baggage Fees:  While we’re on the subject of baggage fees, American waives the baggage fees on a number of flights from the U.S. to Brazil, Europe or Japan. Find out more about this from their website..
  5. ‘WHEN you Buy’ Matters: The best day of the week to purchase airfare used to be Tues.

    Photo Credit: Dafne Cholet CC Lic.

    However, trends are changing.  Weekends have become the ‘new Tuesday’ when buying airfare within the US or to Europe and some great bargains can be snagged on Saturdays.  Worst day to purchase (any) travel?  Fridays!  (That’s when business travelors are booking.)

  6. Fly midweek (Tues-Thurs) rather than weekends (Fri – Mon) if possible to get bargain airfares.  Websites now show fares for  +/- 3 days of your selected date making this much easier to compare.  We’ve moved our vacation dates a couple of days to take advantage of lower fares – especially when buying 4 tickets.
  7. Include a Saturday Night Stay:  You’ll find some of the best bargains on round trip tickets if you include a Saturday night in your stay.
  8. Always check surrounding airports  Sometimes if you’re willing to just drive 20-30 miles, you can save significant money.
  9. Allegiant Air MAY…..I repeat MAY…. be a good deal  Just be aware that they take the whole ‘nickel and dime’ thing to the extreme.  They charge for things the major airlines do NOT charge for – carry ons, blankets, pillows.  Now, because their flights are sooo cheap, this may still be a good deal. You just have to crunch the numbers…and again, look at the ‘total cost’ rather than just the cost of the ticket.  Consolidate your packing (including carry on bags) and bring your own lightweight cover and/or inflatable pillow.  🙂

Saving even just $25/ticket -with free bags – for a family of 4 – round trip – amounts to a savings of $300.  Remember when compare shopping to figure in ALL of these (ticket, baggage fees AND any extras) to determine the best deal.

 

How to Get the Best Deal on Airfare

Photo Credit: Ian Halsey on Flickr CC LIc.

Airfare is constantly fluctuating…influenced of course by the law of Supply and Demand. Obviously, expense, distance, fuel, etc…are a part of the formula, too 🙂 but rates fluctuate based on how many want that seat (demand) and how many seats are still unsold (supply). Other than incentives to frequent flyers, there really aren’t any discounts to be found….but there are a few things you can do to flush out the best fare.

  1. Rule of Thumb:   The earlier you purchase, the lower the fare….up to a point.   Of course, that requires you to be VERY certain of your travel plans as these tickets (at least the lower priced ones) are non-refundable and changing dates/times after your purchase will incur a hefty fee.
  2. Fly Mid-Week if Possible:  Flights on weekends (Fri to Mon.) are typically pricier than flights Tues-Thurs. If possible, plan your vacations to start and end  mid-week.  Search the airline websites

    Photo Credit: Dafne Cholet CC Lic.

    with flexible dates (+/- 1-3 days) if your vacation plans will allow.

  3. Best Day of the Week to Book Airfare:  Airlines often release sales early in the week, (Mondays) and by Tuesday other airlines are rushing to compete and you can find some good bargains. These cheaper seats are limited, so  be ready to book right then to not miss them.
  4. THE SINGLE BEST TIP HERE: DON’T pay baggage fees!  Most of the major airlines offer 1 free checked bag/person when the ticket(s) are purchased using their credit card.  You can apply for the card right before making your airline ticket purchase…then use that card to pay for the ticket(s). The annual fee is typically waived for the first year (Read the fine print) and THOSE are the companies we like to do business with.  At the end of the year, we call to cancel the card. We haven’t paid baggage fees OR annual credit card fees in quite a few years.
  5. Do The Math:  If you ARE going to pay the baggage fees, find out what they are, then figure the TOTAL COST for your trip (ticket and bags)  Some charge $25/bag…others charge $35 for the 2nd bag. Southwest gives passengers 2 free checked bags. JetBlue gives 1 free bag and charges for the 2nd.
  6. Check Surrounding Airports Near Your Destination:  Several years ago, we were going to Cape Cod. In checking flights, I found that the flight to Providence R.I. was significantly less expensive than flying into Boston.  We were headed to the base of the Cape, so we were going to have to drive any hour after the flight anyway.  The drive from Providence was 10 mi. further than driving from Boston.  We drove the extra 10 miles at a significant savings.  Another example:  When heading to the Florida Keys, we found flights to Ft. Lauderdale were HALF the price of flights to Miami. Ft. Lauderdale is approx. 20 miles further north…We drove an extra 20 miles/40 min. and saved over $400!!   Why does this happen?  If an airport is dominated by one or two major airlines, they set the prices and drive out low-cost competitors.  Competition is what keeps prices low,
  7. Always Check with the Airline Directly:  Comparing prices from multiple airlines is easiest on one of the travel brokers or consolidators (Travelocity, Kayak, etc…) however, I don’t typically book with them.  Once I find the best fare, I go to that airline’s website and book there. There have been times when I’ve found significantly cheaper rates there.  One time it amounted to significant savings.  I had found a good fare on a consolidator, then just on a whim, checked the airline website.  I found tickets for $107 pp. (HALF the price!!!)  I’d never seen a rate like that – nor have I since!!  Now, this was in the middle of the night…which might have contributed to the low rate too.  🙂  But I learned from that ..always go to the airline website…and since I’m a night-owl, I do this in the middle of the night.  It works!!
  8. A Word About Scams:  The one pitfall to making your own plans are the scams that are out there.  Folks, NOTHING in life is free!!!   Any offer that claims to give you free Southwest airline tickets is a scam.  Any offer that claims to give you 7 nights free in a condo is a scam.  Now, the Timeshare presentations aren’t scams…they’re NOT giving you anything free.  They’re “buying” your time.  (You sit and listen; they ‘pay’ you for it.)  But if you’re offered something “free”….and nothing is required of you, you can be assured…it’s a scam!!!  Deal with reputable travel brokers or consolidators, airlines, rental car companies, REAL hotels (mom-n-pop businesses are fine…..no need to be afraid of them).  Just deal with “real” people and do your research, and you’ll be fine….and if you get that “funny feeling”, back away.