If it seems like airfare is getting more expensive every year, that’s probably because it is. Rising fuel costs and shrinking competition as airlines merge means that prices are on the rise. For many cash-strapped travelers, finding a cheap ticket can be the difference between a life-changing adventure and staying home. Finding inexpensive airline tickets is both an art and a science, and more affordable fares are there for anyone with the patience and determination to find them. Follow these tips to find the cheapest fares possible and make your next dream trip happen!
Be flexible about flight dates.
If you absolutely must travel on specific dates, then so be it. But if you’ve got a little leeway, you can save hundreds of dollars by going a few days earlier or later. Most flight searches have a flexible search option, which scans for the cheapest flight every day in a range of one or two months. You may save big by going home on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday, or by departing on a Wednesday rather than a Saturday. You may also find that it’s significantly cheaper to go a week or two later than you previously planned.
The best time to book a flight is about three months before the actual flight. Studies show that this is usually when tickets are at their cheapest. If you’re serious about getting the best deal—on expensive multi-leg international flights, for example—start looking about six months before the intended flight date.
…but also keep an eye on last-minute deals.
Last-minute deals are a great way to save money if you have a reasonably flexible schedule. If you find a round-trip $150 flight to Cancun that departs in two days, how can you say no? Take a personal day (or three) from work and get that mini-vacation you needed. If the great deal is only a one-way flight, remember to check the cost of return flights before you book; airlines can make big bucks on the return flights, which are often not discounted.
Watch for price trends.
Airfare prices are changing all the time, so keep an eye on them if getting the cheapest ticket is important to you. Some flight aggregators can be used to set up price threshold notifications, which email or text you when a desired flight goes below a certain price. Some sites, such as Kayak, can also predict price trends and tell you if the tickets are likely to get more or less expensive in the next few days, which can help you decide between buying now or waiting it out.
Factor in luggage and transportation costs before flying a low-cost carrier.
Low-cost carriers (or LCC’s) can be an excellent money-saving option for any flier, but keep in mind that the cost of the ticket isn’t all you have to pay. Many of these LCC’s can end up being more expensive than regular airlines due to extra fees. They often charge exorbitant fees for checked baggage and carry-on bags, and may have lower baggage weight limits than other airlines. These airlines may also fly into smaller, less popular airports that can have more expensive transportation costs than the big airports. If you’re traveling with two checked bags and a carry-on, then a low-cost carrier may not be your cheapest option after all.
Go in the shoulder season.
If the peak season in your destination is late April through the end of August, then consider flying in early April or September, which are considered the ‘shoulder-seasons.’ You may find that you like the shoulder season better, as it’s significantly cheaper and less crowded. However, if you’re planning your trip around a certain time-sensitive activity, such as a major festival or skiing, then traveling in the shoulder season might not be a possibility.