The process of booking a flight can be maddeningly frustrating. Prices vary wildly between booking sites, often with no explanation as to why. Ask the two people sitting next to you on your next flight what they paid for their tickets and be prepared for two totally different answers.
Avoid the pain of paying the most for tickets and instead use this guide to ensure you are getting the best deal. For those who are skeptical that these methods can actually save you money, we’ve included real world examples illustrating the difference in prices when using these tips. Save your money and your mind!
1. Booking your departing and returning flight for specific days during the week
Any frequent traveler will tell you that prices will vary dramatically between certain days of the week. While this is mostly true for domestic travel, these same rules can still apply for international travel as well. The cheapest days to fly are: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. If you are flexible with scheduling, always aim to depart or return on one of these days. Here is a real world example, flying from Miami to Dallas, using Priceline.com:
Departing Tuesday, returning: Tuesday
Departing Saturday, returning Friday
That is over a 40% savings, on the same flight in the same month.
2. Book your flights on Tuesday
Farecompare.com compiled research of all booking sites over a period and found that booking flights at 3 P.M. Eastern time on a Tuesday provided the greatest chance for finding cheap airfare. This one is a bit harder to test, but generally booking earlier in the week WILL provide greater savings than booking a flight over the weekend.
3. Book your flights the right amount of time in advance
Trying to find cheap airfare can sometimes feel like the story of Goldilocks – you don’t want to book your flight too early, and you definitely don’t want to book it too late. You’re looking for that sweet spot right in the middle. So what is it? Cheapair.com did some intensive research and came up with some interesting conclusions:
For domestic flights, look to book your tickets about 7 weeks before you plan on flying, with a leeway either way of about two weeks. Internationally, the best times vary by destination, but average between 3-4 months. Don’t buy your tickets too far in advance, and DEFINITELY don’t buy your tickets last minute. If you’re interested in more information, check out the full article over on cheapoair’s blog.
4. Take full advantage of regional airlines
This rule really applies mostly to Europe and Asia, but applies to anywhere where regional airlines operate. Budget airlines offer flights for a fraction of the cost that larger airlines may charge. Check out the difference in price for this flight from London to Berlin:
Flying on Air Berlin:
Flying on EasyJet:
That’s less than half. Even if you include the extra fees that EasyJet will invariably charge, you still come out saving money.
5. Plan your trip around your budget, and not the destination
This tip applies mostly to those who are more flexible with their vacation and travel plans. If you are just looking to go ANYWHERE and want to do so within a budget, check out the flight planning tools such as www.kayak.com/explore. You can input a departing airport, and see what the prices are to fly anywhere in the world on any given date. It’s perfect for planning a spontaneous weekend getaway or adventure.
You can also use www.Skyscanners.com ‘flexible’ search tool that allows you to mix your airlines to find the cheapest price, and the times that suit you best. You can save money by flying out and back with different airlines or from different airports.
6. Use alternative booking engines
While it’s easy to go straight to Priceline or Hotwire to book a flight, keep in mind there are alternative options to search and book flights that may help you score a lower price. Bing’s airfare predictor can help you by telling you whether they anticipate the price of the flight to rise or decrease in the future. Google’s ITA software has several innovative features, including a price per mile indicator. And finally, www.skiplagged.com (which launched last year) offers an innovative way to search for flights using hidden city transfers. Using skiplagged, here is an example we found flying from Washington, D.C. to Vienna:
Here is the same flight, through Priceline:
7. Sign up for low airfare alerts
The best site we’ve found for low airfares is www.airfarewatchdog.com, which you can set up to alert you whenever an airline has a major price drop on a route from a specific airport. The savings can be substantial, and if you’re a frequent traveler it can really pay to have your alerts set up for destinations you plan on visiting.
8. Be willing to fly early and arrive late
This is a no brainer, but it defintely deserves a mention because many people don’t seem to realize how much money can be saved by being flexible with your flying hours. Take this one way flight from LAX to NYC on American Airlines:
Early morning, 157$
Mid afternoon, 269$
Same day, same airline, 100 dollars difference! Sure, you may even have to add in a layover, but you can use that extra time and money to have a good time in NYC!
9. ALWAYS check surrounding airports
Most major cities have more than one airport serving the city. In many circumstances it can be cheaper to fly to one airport rather than another. Even if there is a major distance between the two airports, the cost savings can more than offset any transportation you may need to take upon landing.
10. Search for flights in a different currency
If you have a credit card that offers no charge on foreign transactions, searching for airline tickets in a different currency can save you a fair bit of money, based on whatever the exchange rate is between the currency you purchased in. Of course, this is dependent on having a no fee credit card and the exchange rate being favorable, but it can save you a good chunk of change. Check out this example:
We searched for a one way flight from Melbourne to Bangkok, first searching in USD:
The price was $196
We then performed the exact same search, after clearing all our cookies and using incognito mode, and returned the following result, in Australian dollars:
Accounting for the exchange rate, the USD ticket is almost 15 dollars cheaper than the exact same flight purchased in USD. It’s important to keep in mind that for this to really be worth it you need a credit card that doesn’t charge you an additional fee for purchases in a foreign currency.
11. Combine two airfares (Departing to X, X to final destination)
Let’s say that you plan on flying from Boston to Rome, leaving on May 5th. You can see the lowest price for a direct flight here:
OK, seems good enough. But is there a way to get there cheaper? Let’s see. Using Skyscanner’s “everywhere” option, lets see what the cheapest flight to Europe is on that day:
Looks like it’s to Iceland! And only $207!
Now searching for flights from Iceland to your final destination, Rome:
For a final cost of only $358, vs. $541 for the flight you book directly. That’s 33% less. Now, you also will have to deal with a lot more flying and more transfers, but if you booking the absolutely cheapest ticket is your goal, think about how much money you’re could be saving!
12. Consider booking a rental car or hotel with your flight
Many flight search engines, such as Priceline and Hotwire, offer the ability to search for packages that combine airfare, hotels, and rental cars. If you are planning on staying in a hotel or renting a car anyway, always try a search combining your options. Frequently lower priced deals are reserved for customers who book a package, and it may offer you substantial savings overall.
For our money, these are the best ways to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal on your airfare. Know of any other secrets that we missed? Let us know by commenting!
Good luck and happy airfare hunting, now get out there and explore!