Not only have airline tickets grown exorbitantly expensive in recent years, but it’s almost impossible to understand how the fares vary so much from day to day and city to city. Other than staying at home, it may often seem like there are few ways to truly save money when traveling by plane. Most everyone knows the easiest way to save on airfare is to book with travel sites such as Orbitz, Priceline or Expedia, but your efforts shouldn’t stop there. We’ve detailed some of the best ways to get the cheapest-possible tickets.
Check Multiple Travel Sites
Instead of sticking with the usual suspects, search as many flight websites as possible to ensure you’re receiving the best possible deal. In fact, many of the most popular travel sites don’t even list budget carriers because those airlines are unwilling to pay a booking commission. For example, you won’t find ticket for Air Asia or Ryan Air on the large U.S.-based sites, but those airlines often offer the lowest fares. Likewise, many of the major discount travel sites don’t even cover the entire world, instead sticking with certain regions. Don’t book a flight without first checking for fares offered at Skyscanner.com, Momondo.com, Google Flights, Hipmunk.com and Kayak.com.
Airline tickets can vary greatly based on the time, day, season and holiday. In the United States, fares generally go up in the summer and around school holidays such as spring break, not to mention the increases that coincide with major holidays. If you are flexible with the dates and times you travel, you can save the most money. Traveling from one day to the next can actually mean the difference of hundreds of dollars. As a general rule of thumb, flights in midweek are cheaper than on the weekend, and flights right after a major holiday has passed are cheaper than before or during the celebration. Likewise, early morning and late night flights are generally cheaper than those during peak hours.
Furthermore, flights to more obscure destinations can be much less expensive to book than popular locations. Try using Kayak’s “Explore tool,” which allows you to enter your departure airport and view prices for routes worldwide. If you just need a getaway, choose the cheapest destination. Likewise, Google Flights offers a similar feature in which you can enter your departure airport and search for “anywhere.” The results will be the cheapest flights available, period.
Use Budget Airlines
There’s no reason you have to fly American, United or Delta. Although there are only a few budget airlines in the United States, other locations offer tons of budget airlines, and the competition keeps all the rates lower. Although your fare will entitle you to fewer perks, the savings makes them well worthwhile.
Fly Alternative Routes
While direct flights are most convenient, flying to the cheapest nearby city to your final destination, then hopping a budget airline the rest of the way can be much less expensive in the long run. For example, you might be able to book a $600 ticket from New York to Oakland, then an additional $60 flight to Los Angeles rather than a $900 direct flight. You’ll spend more time in the air, and simply searching the various options can be time consuming, but the savings will make it all worthwhile.
Take Advantage of Available Discounts
If you’re a senior citizen—which can sometimes apply to anyone older than 50—don’t be ashamed to ask for a senior discount. Likewise, if you are a student, many additional discounts may be available to you. STA Travel offers a great search engine that lists a variety of flexible student tickets. Plus, you can search the Web for a variety of student coupon codes for travel.
Use Frequent Flier Miles
A great way to earn free flights is through airline reward programs. Even if you seldom travel, you should sign up for any free airline rewards program. Be aware of airline affiliations to maximize your rewards with these programs, as well. For example, a passenger flying Singapore Airlines can earn miles toward their United Mileage Plus program since the airlines are partnered, and those flying Air France can earn rewards for Delta Sky Miles. Remember the other ways you can earn miles in the various airline programs, as well, such as staying at certain partner hotels and carrying a partner credit card.
Know When to Book
Not only can you pay more by booking at the last minute, but fares can also be higher if you book too far in advance. As a rule of thumb, the best time to book an airline ticket is 12 to 16 weeks in advance during peak season and just six to eight weeks in advance at other times. During these key windows, airlines generally know whether or not a flight is going to sell and will adjust the fares based on that demand.
Use a Fake Location
It may sound strange, but airfare not only varies by where you depart and arrive, but also from where you purchase the tickets—particularly when it comes to international flights. Fortunately, there’s a technique that can save hundreds of dollars, particularly on domestic flights in a foreign country. Simply run your flight search using Google ITA, and enter a domestic city in the “sales city” field. Although the flight option results will be listed in the foreign currency, it’s easy enough to compare in U.S. dollars with Google’s currency conversion tool.
Although you won’t be able to actually make your purchase using Google ITA, it’s easy enough to go to the chosen airline’s own website, and choose the country you’re traveling and English as the language. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a credit card without foreign transaction fees to really benefit from the savings using this method.