Airline ticket prices vary wildly, and airlines have perfected the art of bleeding every last nickel from their customers. If your summer travel plans call for travel by air, try the following tips for finding cheap airline tickets for your vacation.
Leverage the Internet
By now, most people are familiar with sites like Expedia and Travelocity for comparing airfares. But comparing fares doesn’t help much if all of the prices are still out of reach. In order to pinpoint the cheapest fare, try an airfare monitoring site such as Airfarewatchdog.com or Yapta.com.
These sites will track your desired itinerary and send you an email alert when the fare dips. Always select the “flexible dates” option to find the combination of departure and arrival dates that results in the lowest fare. Yapta presents the information in a grid which makes it easy to see how fares fluctuate from day to day.
Let’s Hear It for Wednesday
According to Farecompare.com, Wednesday is historically the cheapest day to travel domestically. The next best choices are Tuesdays and Saturdays. We all dread those early morning departures, but leaving on the first flight of the day (or on a red-eye, if available) will also keep your costs down.
Be flexible not only in your travel dates and times, but also in your destination itself. Airfarewatchdog.com has a function that allows you to find all low fares from your starting point to a variety of domestic or international locations. $455 RT from Philly to London anyone? Using this function is a great way to liven up your travel planning—you might start off expecting Orlando and wind up in Barbados.
Book a Package
Many online travel sites offer superb deals when you book your hotel along with your room. On a trip to Thailand, I got three super-cheap nights in a swank Mandarin Oriental plus airport transfers that I used on arrival and departure. It was convenient, inexpensive, and gave me the chance to stay in a hotel that normally would have been out of my price range.
If there are multiple airports in your area, check fares from all airports. Sometimes you can save a bundle by driving an hour or two out of your way (for example opting for MDW instead of ORD or BWI instead of DCA). You can also sometimes save by choosing an itinerary with multiple stops instead of a direct flight.
You will lose some convenience with both choices, but the airfare savings may be too good to pass up. These tips and more can be found on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement’s website.
Stay on the Case
Did you know that if you book your tickets and the price of the same itinerary drops after your purchase, that in many cases you can obtain a refund? It’s not a myth! After I purchased tickets for a coast-to-coast trip, I continued to monitor the airline ticket price and found that it dropped by almost $100. I called the airline directly and they honored the lower fare.
Some airlines only grant refunds if the price drop is over a certain threshold ($75, $100, or $150, depending on the airline), but some airlines such as Alaska Airlines and JetBlue offer refunds for any fare reduction. Yapta.com now offers a free automated service that will send you an alert if the price of your airline tickets falls after you book.
My family has no-checked-bags policy. Whether we are traveling for three days or three weeks, we travel with one suitcase and one carry-on bag each. Not only do we avoid the misery of lost bags, pilfered items, and wasted time at the baggage carousel, we also avoid the hefty bag-check fees that some airlines charge.
If you must check a bag, then check the airline’s luggage weight policy online before you pack your bag. Many airlines have brutal surcharges ($50-100) for over-weight bags. Weigh your bag at home before you leave to avoid a nasty surprise at the check-in counter.
Know ahead of time if a meal will be served on your flight and don’t get caught without snacks, unless you enjoy paying upwards of $3 for a few potato chips or a cookie. On-board adult beverages are also a rip-off—normally costing $6-7.
When you are searching the Internet for the best fare and filling in your search criteria, you will be asked how many seats you are trying to book. Even if you are booking for the whole family, always start by indicating that you are booking for a single traveler.
Here’s the deal: if there are two seats left at a lower price, and you enter “four passengers” in the search criteria, the system will automatically assign all four travelers the same higher-priced seats, rather than giving you two cheap seats and two at the higher rate. It will take you longer to make the reservation, but if there are cheap seats still available on your flight, this technique will help you snag them.
Planning a vacation in advance is one thing, but sometimes an emergency arises that makes advance travel planning impossible. If you are traveling due to a death or serious illness, you may qualify for a bereavement fare or an emergency illness fare.
Not all carriers offer these fares, but it is a good idea to inquire, especially since last-minute bookings incur some of the highest fares. Some form of documentation (such as a death certificate or medical records) may be required in order to qualify for the reduced rate.
This article was written by contributing author Laurel Gray.