Airfares can take a big chunk of your holiday travel money, but there are some ways to pay less for your flight.
Leave Your Destination Open. As you are preparing for your trip, start following the sales, advises Scott Mackenzie of travel blog HackMyTrip.com. “Have a list of places you want to visit and subscribe to email alerts or online discussion boards that share great fares. If you see one to a place you want to visit, jump on it. This is often better than picking a destination and then trying to find a good price, he says. “Begin searching for fares far in advance of your departure. Give yourself a 14-to 21-day advance- booking window. Act quickly when you see a fare or destination on sale. This is when you make the call to your agency and have them do a fare search to see if other carriers are also inexpensive. The marketplace historically reacts the same way. You may find yourself on your favorite carrier not advertised on a nonstop or direct schedule to your choice destination, adds Marilyn Fox, partner in New York-based Fox Travel & Tours.
Make a Stop . Non-stop and direct flights are usually more expensive. So build on some time on your trip for a flight with multiple stops and save money. “Consider layovers. If you are flexible and are able to have an extended layover, try to have a layover in a destination you would like to explore like Paris, Rome or London,” says Mathias Friess, CEO of Webjet.com online travel agency.
Be Flexible. “Be flexible on dates, times, and routing. Lots of leisure travelers want to fly nonstop on weekend trips, departing right after work on Friday afternoon and returning Sunday evening. If you're willing to travel mid-week on an early morning flight with a connection, you can save some serious money,” says Mackenzie. Adds Fox, "Choose travel on off-peak days of the week. Slow business travel days are Tuesday and Wednesday. Avoid travel during the holidays. Travel to see your family on Thanksgiving Day or travel a few days ahead of the holiday. The time you book is also important. "Book your flights after midnight when the airlines load their fares into the system, says Dane Steele Green of Steele Luxury Travel. “Check frequently, use the airlines' fare lock system. Hold a fare for 24 hours, check the next day and continue this until the fare goes up or down.” Friess also points out, “Book early or at the last minute. Airlines tend to sell the cheapest seats first and then gradually raise prices until the last minute. Usually a few days before the flight, airlines will drop prices dramatically, especially on "red-eye" flights."
Online Resources . The Internet can make flight shopping easier. “Sites like ExpertFlyer will give you information on the cheapest published fares, their rules, and the availability of different fare classes on each flight. This information can give you confidence that the itinerary you settle on really is the cheapest possible and not just the best you could find,” explains Mackenzie. “Websites like Kayak and Hipmunk will search multiple airlines and online travel agencies at once and compare the results with a link to book. A site like ITA Fare Matrix provides much more thorough and detailed search options for experienced travelers, but fares cannot be booked directly.”
Personal Service. Web surfing can be great, but sometimes the personal touch is necessary when trip planning. “Travel agents are good for complicated trips and managing situations where cancellations or other issues require a rapid response. Good agents are potential lifesavers,” says Mackenzie. “Travel agents also have the ability to search on their computer for the lowest fares. Also, a travel agent has contacts with their airline partners so if you should have a problem, the agent is there to help you. This is not possible using the Internet," says Marsha Calig of Calig Travel and Cruises.
Timing Is Everything. Fares go down during certain days and times. And traveling during certain hours can get you a discount as well. “Many ticket prices drop on Tuesdays when new sales are announced. Sometimes other carriers will lower theirs to match. Because fares are updated throughout the day, wait until later in the afternoon, such as 3 p.m. Eastern Time, to find the most low-cost options on a variety of carriers,” says Mackenzie. “Flights departing on Wednesday tend to be cheapest, but Tuesdays and Saturdays are also good options. Sundays are often the most expensive travel days because leisure travelers know they must return in time for work on Monday.”