No question about it, airfares on some routes are higher than they were four or five years ago, although Airfare watchdog airfare searchers frequently find hundreds of fares crisscrossing the country for $250 or less round-trip. And even though fares seem higher, let’s not forget that, adjusted for inflation; most fares are actually lower than they were 10 or 20 years ago. That said, here’s my best advices for making your airfare dollars go further.
1. There’s no “magic” day or lead time to buy the best airfare.
A lot of airfare experts think they’re clairvoyant, so they know where airfares are headed or how far in advance you should start looking for a fare. The latest myth is to buy exactly 54 days in advance.
2. So search often, over a long lead time, and pounce when there’s a deal!
Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently.
3. Get airfare alerts by e-mail
This is perhaps the easiest way to track airfares. Many travel websites offer e-mailed airfare alerts, letting you know when fares go down, and they all have something to offer.
4. Sign up for the airlines ‘ e-mail feeds and frequent flier programs
Speaking of promo codes, the airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so ethyl send you special deals, such as 50% of promo codes or two-fers, if you sign up for their e-mails.
5. Use Twitter
E-mail is great, but some of the most amazing airfare deals last only a short time (even if they’re valid for travel over a long period), or you open the e-mail too late. Twitter is more immediate.
6. Be a flexible travel date flier
If you don’t care when you go as long as the fare is low, try a flexible date search. It’s getting harder to search airfares based on flexible travel dates now that many sites (Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity and Expedia among them) have eliminated their flexible date calendars. But Kayak.com still has a good one (you must register as a user to see it under Flights/more options/flex month).
7. Search airline sites individually, but online travel agencies are still useful.
Many airlines have “private” sales, reserving their very best fares for their own sites. These are different from promo code sales mentioned above.
8. Use Priceline for last-minute trips
If you don’t have a 7-, 14-, or 21-day advance purchase window to buy your fare, your best bet is the “name your own price” feature of Priceline.com.
9. Use consolidators, but beware of the restrictions
Consolidators specializing in premium cabins will have some great deals, and the airlines themselves will often heavily discount their premium cabins in the summer and just before Christmas, so check the specials on their websites.
10. Consider the extra fees before you buy
If Southwest has a fare of $198 round-trip and United has one for $148, and you are checking three bags, and then Southwest actually has the lowest fare because Southwest charges nothing for the first two checked bags, whereas United would charge you an additional $165 each way for three.
11. Combine two separate fares rather than buying one fare
If your flying to a destination in Europe, you might save money by purchasing one fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, and another from Dublin onward on Ryanair.com (just beware of Ryanair’s hefty fees.
12. Use alternate airports creatively
Is the fare from Miami to London Heathrow to high? See if flying from Ft. Lauderdale to London Gatwick on Norwegian Air Shuttle is cheaper (it probably is).
13. Buy tickets on an airline that will refund the difference if a fare goes down
Let’s say you’ve found the lowest fare, and then the day after purchase your non-refundable fare for the same itinerary goes down. If you ask for it you can get a refund for the difference.