Frugal Flying: Short-Term and Long-Term Strategies for Finding the Lowest Airfares
© 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.
If you need to fly within a month or less, try some of these short-term strategies for finding the lowest airline fares.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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