5 Tips for Booking Cheaper Airfare

Americans don’t travel enough. Limited vacation time and the high cost of airfare are part of the reason.

According to the government’s National Travel and Tourism Office, Americans spent an average of $1,883 per person for international airfare in 2015. Plane tickets are expensive, especially when you add the fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees, but there are a few simple ways to lower the cost.

If you’re planning a vacation, start with these tips to find cheaper flights.

Flexible Dates

Flexibility saves you cash. When available, always check the box indicating that your departure dates are flexible. Occasionally, extending your vacation by a day or two could save you several hundred dollars.

Travel websites like Skyscanner make it easy to view fares across the entire month. It also lets you check prices for the cheapest times. This service aggregates information from most major booking services so that you get the best deal.

Here are some other tips for finding affordable flights:

  • According to the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report published by Expedia, Egencia, and the Airlines Reporting Corporation, you’ll get the best deals if you book your trip at least 30 days in advance.
  • Average expenditures are lowest if you purchase your ticket on a Sunday with a Thursday or Friday departure. Ticket prices are highest for bookings made on Fridays when more folks travel.
  • For premium classes, flying on the weekend is your best bet since you won’t have to compete with corporate travelers. Because 80 percent of business flights occur between Monday and Thursday, you’ll pay less on weekends.

Price Alerts

If you’re willing to wait for a better price, set up an alert. You’ll receive periodic emails as rates for the selected route fluctuate. For example, over three months, prices for flights between Nashville and Miami jumped between $328 and $589 with one leap to $879 for the same travel dates.

While many sites let you set up price alerts, Google Flights is exceptionally convenient. Within the results, just use the toggle button to activate emails. You can manage your alerts from the Google Flights homepage.

For best results, set up notifications one to three months before you plan to travel. Based on booking trends for most destinations, prices are lower and more stable 40 to 100 days before departure. Last-minute bookings are almost always more expensive, except for routes between a few emerging destinations, such as Taipei. Alerts show when prices change so that you can avoid temporary increases and snag the best deals.

Error Fares

Even airlines make mistakes. When they do, you profit. Error fares are elusive and highly prized travel commodities. Finding one is like stumbling across a gold nugget. Fortunately, several websites specialize in locating these ridiculously low fares.

Secret Flying is one of the most popular sources. Their posts show you current prices, eligible cities, and available travel dates. You may sort posts by origin or destination to find special offers that are available in your area. In general, you’ll have better luck when traveling from major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, or Miami.

A typical deal will get you from New York to Seattle for $209 roundtrip or from Boston to Paris for $99 one way. Occasionally, you’ll find unbelievable prices. In 2009, travelers snatched up $7 tickets to Hawaii from several U.S. cities. Most mistakes are due to computer glitches, currency conversion malfunctions or human errors, such as forgetting to add a zero or two.

There is one caveat. Airlines occasionally refuse to honor these tickets, but that’s no reason to miss the vacation of a lifetime. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Frequent Flyer Promotions

Frequent flyer programs sometimes offer discounts on flights between popular domestic and international destinations. If you have a stash of frequent flyer miles, look for promotional fares that require 20 to 50 percent fewer miles. KLM and Air France offer promo rewards through their Flying Blue program. Delta SkyMiles has a special deals page. Even the discount carrier Frontier has a sale section.

Another way to fly further with fewer miles is by taking advantage of special offers through credit cards. For example, if you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to several major airlines. Periodically, you’ll receive 20 or 30 percent more points with each transfer.

Special Discounts

To book cheaper flights without jumping through hoops, check for discounts. You may qualify for up to 25 percent off regular prices based on your age, employment or military status.

  • Some airlines offer discounts to children under 12, students, and senior citizens on certain domestic and international flights. Infants under the age of two fly for free if they don’t need their own seat.
  • Group fares make it easier to plan school trips, weddings, and family reunions. Discounts are typically offered for groups of 10 or more people traveling to the same destination, even if they’re arriving from multiple cities.
  • Active duty military personnel and their family members often qualify for discounts when traveling on leave. Additionally, should your plans change, you can modify your tickets without paying a penalty.
  • In special circumstances, such as bereavement or emergencies, some airlines offer discounts on last-minute bookings. You may also be entitled to change your flight without paying extra fees.

If you don’t belong to any of these groups, there’s another solution. Check out membership services like the FoundersCard, which is recommended by The Points Guy. There’s a considerable annual fee, but you’ll earn discounts on airfare, hotels, and car rentals.

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