Gone are the days of cheap pandemic-era flights. America is back to traveling, and the airlines know it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, airfare prices rose a whopping 26.5% between February 2022 and February 2023.
Flying can be so expensive these days, you might hesitate to plan a vacation at all. But with a little research and consumer savvy, you can lock in a great airfare with a few clicks. Here are some tips for finding cheap airfares, including:
• How to compare airfares
• How to find the best airfares
• How to book cheap airfares
• How not to fall for airfare myths
Know the Average Flight Cost for Your Trip
To start your hunt for the best airfare, you’ll need a baseline. Whether you’re heading cross-country or to the other side of the planet, begin researching how much your flight costs on average.
To get an idea of airfare costs for your next adventure, consult an online travel agency (OTA). Booking sites such as Expedia, Kayak, and Google Flights provide metasearch travel engines to compare prices of various airlines. These scour the Internet to bring you the best deals.
To begin, type in your preferred departure airport and destination in the OTA search engine, and a target date for travel, if you have one. The results can give you an overall idea of what major airlines are charging, and how much you’ll have to dip into your sinking fund for airfare.
In addition to targeting your range of travel dates, you can get more granular and zero in on the number of stops you’re willing to make, the class of service you want to fly, and other details. This will give you more intel so you can start comparing airfares.
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10 Tips for Booking the Lowest Airfare
How can a flight to Miami that costs $250 on a Tuesday jump up to $350 by Friday? Plane fare fluctuations can be maddening, especially when low airfares seem to rise for no discernable reason.
Whether you crave a lavish sojourn overseas or a minimalist camping trip a couple of states away, there are tricks to saving on airfare. Here are 10 ways to stop your getaway funds from flying out of your bank account.
1. Set Up Price Alerts
Some people don’t have the time or patience to hunt for discount airfares — constantly checking prices with multiple airlines, hoping they drop from one day to the next.
Luckily, there’s an app for that. Several of them.
Certain travel websites and apps, such as Hopper, Skyscanner, and Kiwi, offer to set up price alerts. You provide the destination and dates, and they will send you an alert whenever the airfare drops.
Many price alert services will allow you to set up searches for flexible dates or from multiple airports. Some can even advise how far in advance to book or on which days you should book in order to get the best deal.
There’s typically no obligation to buy, so you can decline any offer and wait for a different one. Price alerts can do the work for you, so you can get back to earning money for that all-inclusive resort.
2. Travel During Off-Peak Seasons
Airfares can vary due to supply and demand. Airlines know when most people travel and will raise their fares during peak travel seasons.
If possible, avoid booking flights during July and August, traveling instead in May to early June or late August through mid-October. You can typically avoid the high cost of summer travel that way. January and February tend to be slow travel months and traditionally yield good flight deals, too.
Airfares tend to skyrocket in December, especially around the holiday season and New Year’s. Also, be wary of traveling during certain weeks in March and April, when many K-12 schools and colleges go on break. If you aren’t bound by a school schedule, you will likely find better rates by varying your dates a bit.
3. Be Flexible with Dates
Speaking of dates: If you can be fluid with when you depart and return, that will usually give you some wiggle room to score the lowest airfares. With many OTA websites, you can choose an “I’m flexible” option when searching, which can reveal the price difference between flying back on a Tuesday versus a Sunday. Depending on how business and vacation travel demand fluctuates, you might find a sweet spot where you can snag a cheap airfare.
4. Reap the Rewards from a Travel Credit Card
There are many travel credit cards that offer airline reward points for every dollar you spend, so you can earn a free flight or upgrades in the future. Consider signing up for a credit card with an airline you use frequently or that has a hub near you.
Some airlines offer credit cards with large signing bonuses — up to 75,000 miles or more under certain conditions. But be careful: Those “free” points aren’t free if you can’t pay off your card balance every month and wind up spending your hard-earned bucks on interest charges.
5. Book on the Best Day for Your Route
Here’s a little calendar intelligence about nabbing the best airfare: Some days can offer lower prices than others:
• Mondays and Wednesdays can be the cheapest days to fly domestically and internationally, ringing up at 12% to 20% less than weekend flights.
• Sundays are often the most expensive day to leave for a trip.
• The day you book a flight doesn’t matter very much. Research shows you only stand to save 1% or 2% on ticket prices that way.
6. Know How Far in Advance to Book
You probably know that last-minute travel can be dicey. And when it comes to air travel, not only do you risk high prices, but you could be shut out entirely.
It’s usually best to book travel between one and five months in advance to secure the seats you want at the best price. If you are going really far afield (Australia, anyone?), it can be wise to start hunting a full nine or even 10 months in advance.
7. Save on Last-Minute Fares
Here’s an exception to the above rule: If you are a person who’s super spontaneous (you might even say you fly by the seat of your pants), you might be able to fly cheaply too. When there are empty seats on a plane, airlines may promote last minute deals to fill them.
Betting on last-minute airfares is risky though — prices can soar with demand or tickets can sell out. If you’re the Best Man in a destination wedding, best to book your flight in advance, even if you are trying to cut the costs of being in a wedding. But if you happen to have a slow work week ahead and unused vacay days, the stars might align in your favor.
8. Book Through the Airline
Travel search engines like Expedia can be a great way to find cheap airfares, but when it comes to booking, sometimes it’s worth double-checking prices directly at the airline’s website.
Booking directly through an airline may save you time and hassle if a flight gets delayed or canceled. If you book through a third party and there’s a problem with a reservation, an airline will often pass you back to whichever OTA processed the purchase.
Worth noting: Some airlines, like Southwest, don’t allow OTAs to list or sell fares.
9. Shop for Nearby Airports or Cities
You may be able to save on airfares by broadening your airport search. If you’re willing to drive a bit more, sometimes flying in or out of a smaller, out-of-the-way airport or from a nearby city can save you money. As you search for cheap airfares, allow the results to show additional airports within a certain radius of your destination to see if that alters pricing.
10. Save on Fees
Airlines can tack on a lot of fees for extra perks — checked baggage, reserving your seat in advance, and in-flight amenities. You can save on fees by:
• Becoming a frequent flyer. Enrolling in an airline’s frequent flyer plan or signing up for an airline credit card can award you free checked bags, free advanced seat selection, upgrades, and other benefits.
• Packing light. To avoid checked-bag fees, invest in the biggest, airline-approved luggage piece that can fit in the overhead compartment. You may need to scour the airline’s website to get the dimensions that are accepted. Then, for your “personal item,” choose a roomy but squashable bag or backpack that can fit under the seat.
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3 Myths About Booking Flights
There are several myths surrounding ways to find the best airfares. Don’t fall for them. Here are examples:
1. Buy your tickets on a Tuesday. According to Google Flights, when comparing fares bought on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to those bought on a weekend day, “prices have only been 1.9% cheaper on average.” In short, good deals are not reserved for a specific day of the week.
2. Shop incognito. There is no evidence to suggest that your searches are being tracked and that the intel gathered is being used to raise your airfare. Clearing your cookies and your cart or shopping in incognito mode will not unlock access to lower airfares.
3. Save with a Saturday stopover. In the past, when business travelers with expense accounts filled airline seats, airlines would offer deals if you stayed over on Saturday instead of flying home Friday night for the weekend. But with so many discount airlines and non-business travelers, this no longer necessarily holds true.
No one wants to blow most of their travel fund just getting to and returning from their destination. By comparing airline ticket prices, setting up price alerts, and being flexible with your travel plans, you can likely land the best flight deal. You’ll spend less of your time in the skies and leave more for sightseeing, shopping, and fun activities, which after all is the whole point of traveling.
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