If you’re planning a trip, you’ve probably noticed that airfare can eat up a big chunk of your budget in one fell swoop. Though some high airfares are practically unavoidable (good luck getting a deal at Thanksgiving or Christmas), there are plenty of ways to cut back on airfare expenses. Read our guide on finding the cheapest airfare to avoid paying sky-high prices for your next flight.
Use Deal Websites
Most people are already familiar with deal websites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. However, it’s not enough to simply do a search for your dates and destination then pick the cheapest option. Instead, use these sites as a guide to get a good grasp of what prices you should expect. Notice which airlines tend to be cheaper, then compare those rates with the prices you find on the actual airline website. The deal site may be the better deal, but you should still do plenty of searching before you hit that “Purchase” button.
In addition, remember that some of the discount airlines aren’t listed on all of the deal websites. Airlines like Southwest, Jet Blue and Spirit often have very cheap rates, but won’t pop up in your search results on deal sites, so make sure to check those airlines’ websites individually.
Time Your Purchase
It’s imperative that you start shopping early when you plan to fly. Waiting until your departure date approaches will only cost you more money in most cases. This is especially important for holiday flights, which can increase dramatically in price in the month or two preceding the flight dates. Start looking as soon as you know when you plan to travel – even a year in advance isn’t too early to start your search, especially for international flights. If the prices seem a little high and your flight is still a long way off, consider calling the airline to ask for a discount.
To save even more money, purchase your tickets on certain days of the week. Traditionally, Tuesdays offer the lowest rates, with Wednesdays coming in at a close second.
Consider Hidden Fees
There’s some good news when it comes to hidden fees for airline tickets. Near the beginning of 2012, Transportation Department rules were changed to require airlines to include all the taxes and fees in their online listed prices. This makes it a lot easier to compare airfare prices online since the majority of taxes and fees are now included in the base rate.
However, it’s not always as easy as selecting the cheapest rate. Depending on what airline you fly and your travel needs, you’ll also have to factor in a few extra costs. For example, fees for checking luggage can vary by airline and can significantly increase the cost of flying. Some of the discount airlines, like Spirit, even charge for carry-on luggage (which is part of how they offer such cheap airfare to begin with). Other airlines have started charging extra for things like choosing your own seats. It’s important to factor in all these costs before you make your final decision.
Additional Tips for Saving on Airfare
Here are a few other handy ways to snag cheaper flight tickets:
- Be flexible with your travel dates: You may not realize it, but the dates on which you travel often have the biggest impact on how much you’re paying for airfare. Certain days of the week – namely Friday and Sunday – have higher rates due to a higher demand for tickets on those days. Meanwhile, travelling in the middle of the week may help you save on your final airline ticket price. Wednesdays are often the cheapest day to fly, so try to depart and/or return mid-week if you can. Holiday travel is also notoriously expensive, but you may be able to save a little money by flying on an actual holiday.
- Use alternate airports: Always find out if there’s another option for flying into your destination city. For example, Chicago has two airports (Midway and O’Hare) that may offer slightly different prices. For more savings, fly into a nearby city (like flying into Baltimore instead of Washington, D.C.). Just be sure to factor in any extra costs for getting to your destination from an alternate airport.
- Fly standby: Call the airline to find out if any of the flights you’re considering have open spots. Get to the airport early for the flights you hope to get on and asked to be placed on the standby list and make sure you’re able to hear if they call your name. Snagging a standby seat can be very affordable but unreliable. If you’re not willing to risk missing a flight altogether, book a seat on a later flight so that you can use your confirmed reservation if the standby attempt doesn’t pan out. In addition, it’s best to have only a carry-on for standby travel since you will likely to be called to the gate very shortly before the flight departs, leaving little or no time to check a bag.
These days, it’s getting more and more difficult to find cheap tickets. While you shouldn’t expect to score amazing deals every time, using these tips can help reduce your total cost for air travel.