Secrets to Booking Cheap Flights: 12 Do’s and Don’ts
Did you know there’s a team of people at Travelzoo’s Fly.com dedicated to finding cheap flights and telling you, our members, about them? Yes, it’s pretty much a dream job. And yes, they use every single one of their vacation days. Collectively, our Fly.com team has flown over 2 million miles. We’ve rounded up their smartest tips to help save you time and money when booking airfare.
1. DO search for tickets one at a time
Even if you’re flying with a group. Airlines often sell multiple fare classes at different prices, with a couple seats in each class. If there’s only one seat left in the lowest fare class and you search for four seats, most automated systems will show you the highest fare class for all four tickets. Try searching one at a time, just in case there are limited seats on sale. This way, you’ll rest assured that at least some, if not all, of your tickets were purchased for the lowest possible price. If you lock in the cheap fare and have the option to select seats, pick one next to an empty seat; then, immediately book the second ticket and select the seat next to the first one. It takes a little time and effort, but can really pay off.
2. DO search for flights midweek.
Airlines tend to launch their sales on Tuesdays and end them on Thursdays, so don’t limit your searches to the weekends. Advertised fare sales generally target the next two or three months of travel and have 14- to 21-day advance purchase requirements.
3. DON’T avoid flying on the actual holiday.
Changing your departure or return date by one day can save major cash. The biggest savings typically come with flying on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. The exception is if you’re traveling over a three-day weekend around Labor Day or Memorial Day. Then, everyone is looking to fly on the actual holiday, so that’s the perfect time to try and extend your vacation by a day.
4. DO search for two one-way fares, even on different airlines.
While some airlines charge extra for a one-way fare, it can pay to compare. Just make sure to triple-check the dates, times and cities so you don’t book two tickets from, say, Seattle to LA. Not that this has happened to any of our Deal Experts.
5. DO try to fly at least one leg of your trip on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.
Because planes are least full on these days of the week, these flights usually have the lowest fares. Side perk: Getting through airports is usually a breeze.
6. DO look to book a package.
If you need a hotel in addition to your flight, it may be cheaper to buy a flight-and-hotel package than to book each separately. Many hotels take this opportunity to hide a very aggressive discount within a packaged price versus discounting the hotel alone. This is a great opportunity to find deals at big brands that are hesitant to have a low price next to their name.
7. DO jump on a hot fare when you see it.
Airlines are required by the DOT to offer 24-hour free hold or cancellations as long as you are booking your ticket 7 days prior to your travel date. Typically, you’ll have to pay first, then you get the full refund. The only exception is American Airlines, which is transitioning to this policy, but still offers a free hold for 24 hours. The other big exception to note is that you have to book with the airline directly. This rule doesn’t apply if you book your ticket with an OTA (online travel agency), like Expedia or Orbitz.
8. DON’T rule out alternate airports.
For example, JetBlue mainly flies to Long Beach instead of LAX — so if you can fly into LGB, you might save as much as $50-$100 on the flight. Consider the same for Chicago, New York, the Bay Area, Dallas, Houston, South Florida and Washington, D.C. Fly.com automatically notifies you of a lower fare from a nearby airport — just make sure the difference in parking or transportation to the airport is big enough to make the trip to an alternative airport worth it.
9. DO check Twitter, Facebook & Travelzoo Newsflash emails.
Follow your favorite airlines on social media, and — shameless plug — follow Travelzoo and Fly.com, in addition to signing up for Travelzoo Newsflash emails. This way, you’ll have access to deals that airlines can’t advertise directly. Little known fact: Airlines only have a certain number of seats they can advertise at a sales price, so when we see something hot, we’ll make sure you know about it ASAP.
10. DO know when to be loyal and when to compare.
Keep a loyal rewards membership with favorite airlines to rack up points when it makes sense. Sometimes, it’s worth it to book a slightly more expensive ticket when it earns you points. Many airline credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses that are enough for a free flight, not to mention perks like priority boarding, free checked luggage and more. But, to make an informed decision, it pays to compare all available fares before booking.
11. DON’T be afraid of the layover.
Even though a nonstop is ideal, you can sometimes save $100-$200 by stretching your legs during a plane change. Some airlines, like Icelandair, also offer free stopovers — meaning you can extend your stay in the layover city and make it part of your vacation.
12. DON’T shy away from off-peak or shoulder-season travel.
During months when destinations see a lower volume of visitors, they respond by lowering flight and hotel prices. For example: Don’t rule out Europe in winter. Flights are a bargain (think $400+ less than what you’d pay in peak months). In addition to fewer crowds, you can check out picturesque Christmas markets and escape feeling guilty for spending all your time indoors wandering museums, palaces and cathedrals. And is there anything more romantic than wandering centuries-old cobblestone streets while snowflakes fall dreamily from above?
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