Although the days of $39 one-way flights seem to be behind us, there are still ways to save when booking airfare. Often times, flights can be one of the most expensive (and stressful!) parts of a trip so finding a deal is not only important, it can be the determining factor in going at all. When searching, your time is also worth something so we compiled this list to save you time so you can book comfortably and feel good about it.
Here are our 6 tried and true tips based on a decade of travel and hundreds of flights flown around the world.
1. Be Flexible with When You Travel
If you're looking to go to Mexico over spring break or Europe in the middle of summer, you're going to see higher rates. Same with weekends - they tend to be pricier since the demand is greater, so consider a weekday flight when possible. Also, those early morning and late night flights aren't most people's first choice so discounted rates can be found then. Cheaper flights are offered when fewer people want to travel. Changing your schedule by just one day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
When possible, book the flight first, even before accommodations. This way, you'll know you have a good deal on the airfare and can budget more accurately for the remainder of the trip. There are many great resources for getting a quick visual of prices for a whole month. Consider Google Flights, Travelocity or Orbitz. You can easily compare what days are cheapest for your specific route.
2. Avoid Cookies in Your Web Browser
Have you noticed after web searching several times for a flight, the price seems to go up? It's not in your head, flight prices can actually increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched based on the cookies in your browser. The site is enticing you to book as quickly as possible. Avoid this by changing your browser to private browsing mode or incognito. Just follow these steps:
When using Google Chrome & Safari: Hit Command or CTRL, Shift, “N”. For an older version of Safari, click "Safari" in the menu bar, then "Private Browsing".
When using Mozilla Firefox & Internet Explorer: Hit Command or CTRL, Shift, “P”.
This will ensure you aren't 'remembered' while searching and can avoid seeing inflated fares.
3. Use Budget Airlines
This may seem obvious but often times budget airline flights don't show up on searches like Priceline, Kayak and Expedia. Many offer significantly reduced fares and sales, we just need to go directly to the airline website for rates. In the U.S., consider Southwest, Frontier, JetBlue, and Allegiant.
When flying internationally, we've found Europe's EasyJet and RyanAir to be great options for price and service. For a complete list of airlines, see Low-Cost Airlines by Continent. When booking, confirm if checked baggage is included or if there are add-ons, so you aren't surprised by hidden fees. Also, you may want to double check the arrival destination for your trip's convenience. For example, a "North Paris" airport may require a separate transfer into the city itself. Those additional costs may add up, making your deal a not-so-great deal after all.
4. Book Multiple Legs of a Trip
For longer and direct flights, it's worth checking to see if separate bookings can save you money. This can mean purchasing legs of your trip separately or even using different carriers to get you from point A to B. This can mean not flying direct even though it's an option. You can also find a return flight to be cheaper when booked on its own rather than with a round-trip fare.
5. Consider When is Cheapest to Book
Many studies have been done to determine the best time to book, ranging from months out to just weeks before departure. In reality, airlines often don’t actively start monitoring domestic flight prices until about three months before departure and about six months out for international departures. It's then that price cutting typically starts. So, you can plan to start your search within those parameters without feeling like you've missed out on a good rate. But don't book too close to your departure - when you find a price that you are comfortable with you should take it. There's nothing like waiting too long only to find out the best rates have passed.
In regards to what days of the week is better for cheap fares, here's a good rule of thumb. Try to avoid booking flights on a Friday unless you know it's a deal. Studies have shown that airlines may start price hikes then as leisure travelers search heavily on the weekend.
You may have heard Tuesdays offer the cheapest rates and although there are conflicting theories, this could be due to airline executives reviewing weekend sales and trying to offload remaining seats starting on Tuesdays. Early weekdays may be a good booking time, however, keep in mind that other studies reveal that most business travel bookings happen during the week so rates may fluctuate to maximize airline profits. Overall, consider that when you travel is often more cost-saving than when you book.
6. Buddy Passes
This may not apply to you today, but it is worth knowing in case you have or may someday have friends in the airline industry. Employees of airlines often receive a handful of flight passes that they can willfully give to family and friends. These passes allow travelers to fill empty seats on aircrafts for a fraction of the flight cost. This can include flying anywhere in the world so long as the flight isn't full and you are willing to have a flexible schedule as flights can fill at the last minute. Wouldn't it be nice if we all knew a buddy in the industry!
Follow these steps and be on your way to happier bookings. At the end of the day, you want to feel good about your purchase, so monitor flights occasionally, book when comfortable and move on to the more exciting parts of your trip!