Anyone who loves to travel knows that one of the biggest expenses, if not THE biggest expense, can be your airfare. Sure, getting a free ticket with airline points is a fantastic way to get rid of this cost, and I am a huge proponent of doing this whenever possible. But for all kinds of reasons using airline points is not always an option. So when you do have to buy the ticket yourself it’s good to have a game plan to try to get the best price possible. Since airline ticket pricing can be a volatile rollercoaster ride, here are some tips, ideas and resources to help you do the best that you can.
How far in advance you make your purchase.
This can have a huge influence on the price. If you plan to travel during high season then usually the earlier you make your purchase the better. And if you plan to fly during a holiday time period it is probably best to buy your ticket at least 3 or 4 months in advance, since those seats tend to fill up even faster which of course drives up prices. Exceptions might be on specific dates that people generally prefer not to travel. Examples of this in the US would be Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. If it is not a holiday period or high season, my experience has been that on average you tend to get the best prices by purchasing your tickets about 6-8 weeks in advance. At the very least try to buy your plane tickets at least 21 days before your departure, because outside of those rare last minute purchase deals this is often a requirement for many airlines to get their best rates.
Best time of the week to make your purchase.
Many credible sources say that often the best time to purchase a ticket is as soon as possible after 12:01 a.m. Tuesday night (Wednesday morning) in the time zone of the airline’s home base. The reasoning given is that this is when the airlines’ computer systems dump all of the reservations for sale-priced tickets that were made over the previous weekend but were not actually purchased, and it is first come first served once they are made available again.
Be flexible whenever possible.
Try different departure and return dates if your situation permits. As a general rule it tends to be more expensive to fly on a Monday, Friday or Sunday, since usually there are more business travelers on those days. Also try nearby airports if possible, because they may be served by budget airlines that tend to force better prices across the board due to stronger competition. Although using a different airport may be less convenient, it could possibly save you quite a bit of money. Be open to different departure times if you can. A mere two or three hour time difference can sometimes mean a much less expensive fare. Consider non-direct flights as well if you are willing and able, because direct flights often charge a premium – as they say time is money.
Sign up for email alerts and frequent flyer programs with all airlines you might use.
Sometimes the best deals only last for a few hours or less, so the sooner you can learn about the hot deals the better. Likewise, sometimes the best deals of an airline are only available to those who are members of their frequent flyer program. On that same general note, whenever you find a great fare on one of the aggregator sites (see below) you should also always check directly on the airline’s website. Sometimes you can get an even better price there.
When flying overseas always check the major airlines international websites.
For larger airlines sometimes prices will be much cheaper on their websites that are geared towards servicing people in other countries. You will be charged in that country’s currency though, so make sure to check on the current exchange rate. If you do go this route try to use a credit card that doesn’t charge you a fee for foreign transactions.
Some great websites for airfare searches. Never use just one!
KAYAK.com is my favorite aggregator website to start with. It often finds the best deals, and it has some great search features. For instance, you can search for flexible dates by clicking on ‘flexible’ next to ‘Depart’ and ‘Return’ and then using the drop down box to indicate how much flexibility you have. This finds you the best fares available for the dates that work for you. You can also request daily or weekly email alerts with price changes if you sign up with them.
Wego.com is another really great aggregator. It doesn’t have the same great search features as Kayak, but sometimes Wego can find better prices than Kayak for the exact same flights.
Skyscanner.com is a smaller aggregator, but it is growing in popularity and sometimes can find more esoteric routes that might not be covered by the larger aggregators above.
Momondo.com is a newer aggregator based in Europe that sometimes beats its competitors, especially for European-based flights.
Vayama.com is yet another useful site and is focused solely on international flights.
Using these websites and the general guidelines above them should enable you to save about as much money as possible whenever you have to buy an airline ticket. We all love getting a good deal, so happy hunting!