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Frugal Flying: Short-Term and Long-Term Strategies for Finding the Lowest Airfares

Updated on July 1, 2011
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© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin

Whether you enjoy or detest what air travel has become, you can’t argue that it is often the fastest way to reach distant destinations cross-country or around the world. It can also prove extremely expensive because of rising fuel costs and the addition of so many miscellaneous charges. You can bring down the cost of airline tickets in many ways, depending on whether you need to fly immediately or can plan for future trips.

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Short-Term

If you need to fly within a month or less, try some of these short-term strategies for finding the lowest airline fares.

  1. Find a baseline airfare for comparison. The only way you’ll know whether an airline ticket is expensive or cheap is to determine the going rate for your route. Determine that rate by entering your flight details at your favorite travel sight such as Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia. If you’d rather search many travel sites at the same time, go to Kayak.
  2. Choose the flexible date option when pricing, unless you absolutely must fly on specific dates. You’ll then discover how changing the time changes the price. Write down the airlines with the lowest fares, but be sure you distinguish between ticket prices, and surcharges such as fuel and taxes.

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no best day to find the cheapest ticket. However, the cheapest day to fly for domestic routes is Wednesday, followed by Tuesday and Saturday. Friday and Sunday are the most expensive times. The cheapest times to fly are with red-eye flights that leave late at night and arrive early in the morning. These are becoming increasingly rare. Other cheap flight times are during the first flight in the morning, such as at 5 AM, after lunch or during dinner.
  3. Browse the website of the airline with the best prices. If you want to directly type the URL of the company, try the form <name>.com, where <name> is the name of the airline. For example, to get the Southwest Airlines website, enter Southwest.com. You can also google the airline name to find its website.
  4. Find the airfare for your intended trip. Airline websites frequently have prices that are lower than the travel sites, because they want to encourage you to book directly through them. Another advantage of these sites is that these are the only locations where you can find a complete list of miscellaneous charges such as for checked-in luggage, snacks and blankets.
  5. Phone the airline directly to see if they have any unadvertised specials. This is basically a shot in the dark, since airlines are trying to steer customers away from human interactions. They even charge extra for phone reservations. Take these charges into account when pricing tickets.
  6. Contact a travel agent, if the prices still seem too high. True, they often charge booking fees, but they may be aware of specials not available to the general public,. They can also simplify pricing for complex routes involving several airlines. Look for consolidators, who buy blocks of tickets to popular destinations at wholesale prices, and then pass the savings on to customers.

    If you can’t Google a local agent, use the Search feature on the website for the American Society of Travel Agents. You can find agents by location, specialty or keyword. If you’re traveling to a destination frequented by a large ethnic population in the US, go to an agent who specializes in that ethnicity for the best deal. For example, for trips to Mexico, go to a Mexican travel agent. And don’t worry, they will sell to anyone, and any potential issues disappear when money is involved.

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Long-Term

If you want to fly a month or longer from now, you can still use the short-term strategies to finding the lowest airfare. At the very least, those procedures will yield a baseline airfare, so you have something to compare prices with. However, you can add these methods to the mix.

  1. Sign up for the frequent-flyer programs of as many airlines as you can. On many airlines, doing so earns you discounts and perks. For example, Lufthansa HON Circle members can include a ski bag or golf bag on their flights. You’ll also receive special fare notices via email either before non-members get them or that are unavailable to the general public.

    Ssigning up for a program also allows you to accrue reward points that you can exchange for discounted or free flights. However, you’ll want to accumulate those points in just one program. That way, you can gain rewards faster. But you can still gain perks from other airlines, by simply remaining their members, even if you don’t accumulate miles in them.
  2. Sign up for free airfare alert services that automatically inform you of price changes and special offers for your selected trips. Some examples are FareWatcher Plus, Yapta or Airfare Watchdog.
  3. Sign-up for an airfare forum such as Flyertalk. Not only will you receive tips on saving for all aspects of your trip, you can find out how much value for the money each airline offers. Try posting your planned itinerary with a plea for help. You may be surprised at the number of suggestions you’ll get for reducing your airfare or making your flight a better one.

Seating

For tips on finding the best airline seats once you've bought your ticket, check out Finding the Best Airline Seats When Flying Economy Class.

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    • susiebrown48 profile image

      susiebrown48 

      6 years ago from Clearwater, FL

      Nicely written! Excellent suggestions - I love that you covered the distinctions between short term and long term flights

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 

      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      I find internet shopping for airfares overwhelming, so I find these tips very helpful and interesting. I need to sign up for more airfare alert programs for starters. Thanks! Voted up and shared.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a comprehensive listing of places to check for the best prices when booking flights. Thanks for compiling them all into one place making it easier for everyone to have at their disposal for future bookings. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • profile image

      KatrineDalMonte 

      6 years ago

      A great hub! I always use Kayak, as it seems the fastest way of getting a fare comparison from multiple websites across the internet. Having said that checking the airline's website directly has also its advantages as they sometimes offer seat-sales depending on the season.

      Voted up.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      Hi alocsin, informative hub. I feel very fortunate when it comes to flying because my sister works for an airline. Family gets to travel for cheap Air fare. Although we can only use it for domestic flights.

      But when I fly back home to Italy as I do each year, it's always good to know where to look and how to save! Lots of great tips!

      Voted Up and SHARED.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      With the price of airfare continuing to climb (ewww, bad pun), it's important to be aware of every advantage to the consumer. Your suggestions here make sense to me.

      Voted up and SHARED.

    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Alocsin, the last time I flew was in 2008 and this was for work. This hub is very useful. Voted up, and I am going to sign up for the fare alerts.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I'm glad these work for you in the Philippines. Moira. I'm wondering if airfare is relatively expensive or cheap there for the average consumer.

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 

      6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      This is very useful alocsin. Your tips are quite comprehensive and effective. I follow the same process myself and those frequent flyer cards are very handy to have. A must-read for those looking for ways to find cheap air fares.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Asia

      Voted up and useful, some sound tips for saving a few extra dollars ... and with recent increases in flight prices, every bit helps!

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Let me know if these tips actually help you find a lower price, Om.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      7 years ago

      Lots of great tips here. I'm flying to Bangkok to visit my family next year so I'll certainly use some of your tips. Rated up and useful. :)

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Let me know how it goes, CaroleGayle, and if you actually save money.

    • CaroleGayle profile image

      CaroleGayle 

      7 years ago from Chicagoland

      This is a fantastic Hub. I will be booking flights shortly for a fall New York trip. I will use these frugal flying tips. Thanks!

    • Joe Bricky profile image

      Joe Bricky 

      7 years ago from Northern Nevada

      That was good. I haven't been checking the actual airlines in a while. They used to always be higher, but I see that is changing. Up and awesome.

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