7 Unexpected Rules For Saving On Airfare

With the tightening economy, airfare feels more painful than ever,you can avoid paying more than absolutely necessary with these seven tips…

1. Buying really far in advance usually doesn’t matter
The lowest prices get released in the period 2-8 weeks beforehand. Buying earlier than eight weeks in advance won’t usually won’t get you any deals, and you might even miss out.

2. Buying really far in advance DOES matter for peak travel dates
Spring Break flights leaving on Friday, Sunday returns during summer months, and, of course, anything around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

3. Snatch up price drops
Fare cuts are usually bye bye in 2 days.

4. Spurn high fares
Hiked prices are often cut when airlines have to make up for all the lost business from prices being too high.

5. Day of flight is important
The cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Don’t believe me? Read this.

6. Day of ticket purchase matters
Price drops usually get rolled out earlier in the week

7. Leave earlier, stay longer
You can save during holiday rush times if you depart a day earlier and come back a day later than most people would.

What are your favorite tricks for saving on airfare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tracking Air Fares: Elaborate Algorithms Predict Ticket Prices [WIRED]

(Photo: iwantamonkey)


Edit Your Comment

  1. newlywed says:

    as someone who travels aboug 30-40K miles a year…airfares are still MUCH cheaper than they were about 4-6 years ago…

  2. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    “You can save during holiday rush times if you depart a day earlier and come back a day later than most people would.”

    It should be noted that a person should reasonbly calculate the cost of any time lost off work into that ticket price.

  3. mountaindew says:

    “2. Buying really far in advance DOES matter for peak travel dates Spring Break flights leaving on Friday, Sunday returns during summer months, and, of course, anything around Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

    I believe Rick Seaney on Farecompare does not recommend buying more than 4 months ahead.

  4. austinchu says:

    I like to check multiple airports and see what’s available. Example: Flying into midway is better than flying into o’hare, if you’re flying southwest. There’s a science to flying cheap, a lot of it is flying smart. One thing I’ve notice is prices change sometimes within minutes. I was checking on orbitz once, and a flight was listed to $x, I went to refresh the page and it went up by a a couple hundred bucks. So I decided to start over, when I did, the price readjusted to the advertised prices. I think websites are adjusting the price to trick the consumers. Haven’t checked it recently. I also start with kayak.com and check individual airlines. Just don’t spend all your time checking flight! your time is valuable.

  5. nweaver says:

    On southwest, always book as far in advance as possible.

    Since they don’t charge change fees for rebooking, if they drop the fare, jsut do a change on your ticket to the same flight, and you get the difference as credit for your next flight.

  6. Tmoney02 says:

    @mountaindew: I believe Rick Seaney on Farecompare does not recommend buying more than 4 months ahead.

    I am pretty certain he does in regard to thanksgiving and Christmas time travel. Anytime, no matter how far in advance, you can find a deal on these tickets snatch them up because they will always be expensive and almost never go down as the date approaches.

  7. Tmoney02 says:

    @Tmoney02: @mountaindew:

    I went ahead and looked it up. Here is what he says, and a reminder for everyone if you haven’t bought your x-mas and Turkey day tickets yet you should be looking now.

    Posted August 13, 2007
    1) Shop Year Round And for the 2007 Holidays, Buy Now!

    * SHOP 4-MONTHS BEFORE YOUR DEPARTURE: For almost all domestic U.S. travel, the ideal time to start shopping is about 4-months ahead of time. So get going! Outside of that window, the airlines charge a premium of $30-80 for the cheapest seats.
    * PEAK TRAVEL TIMES ARE ALWAYS EXPENSIVE: When it comes to holiday travel, there are NO free rides. For these trips you should shop year-round you know youre going to pay a premium, so why not pay an extra $80 vs. $200 to $300 extra? Thats just smart shopping!
    * BUY NOW: If you havent made your ticket purchase for the 2007 holidays, it bears repeating: buy now.
    Full Blog Post Here

  8. Craig says:

    Love the screen capture from Virgin America’s surprisingly entertaining safety video…which I watched four times last week on a cross-country flight. “Just in case you’re part of the .0001% who have NEVER used a seatbelt before…”

  9. bobfromboston says:

    Don’t get locked into the departure/return combinations that show up on Expedia, etc. Sometimes (please note the qualifier) it’s better to buy two one-way tickets from different airlines; you’ll fly when *you* want, and the price may be less.

  10. mariospants says:

    I have a friend who works for big airlines setting prices. He’s sufficiently mathematically and statistically-minded but once in a while he’ll throw a 20 minute seat sale for trips us buddies of him request. So if you ask him “I need to fly from Boston to Sacramento this month” (he handled E-W, W-E flights) he’d hook you up: “buy a ticket at such and such a time tomorrow”. Apparently his boss didn’t care/notice because they never sold a lot of tickets that way and it got the competition to wondering what the hell was going on (“is there a conference going on we don’t know about?”) keeping them on their toes.

    It’s not so scientific as we all would like to believe it is.

  11. DeadWriter says:

    Another way to save- change the departing airport.

    The difference between flying from my town to a hub and then out is about $200. It seems worth it for international fares, but not domestic travel. The airport bus costs less, gets me there on time and unlike commuter flights, doesn’t seem to get stuck on the tarmac for hours at a time.

    Changing the departing airport can save bundles cash, even if a commuter flight is not used.

    I’d even argue that a leisurely day on the train is better than the hassle of air travel, but one must have the time. It is less expensive, but getting there on-time is not likely to happen. (I’d rather sit back and have room to read and write comfortably).

  12. beatofhawaii.com says:

    There’s no way to simplify the situation on how to find really good deals.

    Unless you’re really serious about it and therefore following the deals with a feed-reader, such as my.yahoo, igoogle, or google reader, chances of getting in on a good one are slim to none. The reason is that the best deals aren’t available for up to 2 days (as you indicated). They’re now usually available for under 12 hours, and even then, the best choices go faster.

    Aloha, [beatofhawaii.com]

  13. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    If you have air miles, but not enough to purchase a ticket, check and see if the flights you want are available as mileage award tickets and look into how much it would be to purchase enough air miles to get that ticket. I just spent $115 on USAir to purchase miles and redeem them on flights valued at over $600.

    Bonus: I got my ticket early enough that, despite flying after they start charging for checked baggage, it won’t apply to me (another hidden way to save money, if you know now that you’ll be flying after those fees kick in).

  14. atypicalxian says:

    Flying on an actual holiday, if you don’t mind it, is also cheaper. I’ve flown on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and saved. This year, I got a good price on a round-trip flight from Newark to Austin, leaving July 4th and coming back on a Saturday.

  15. I love the picture you used. Virgin’s air safety info is the cutest ever.

  16. Concerned_Citizen says:

    @atypicalxian: I just booked southwest tickets this morning and got southwests $77 fair by leaving 6:30am on thanksgiving instead of the night before. It was about 40 bucks cheaper. Of course it would have been cool to get in on it earlier and save 40 bucks on each way, but any savings is good.

  17. Since we fly the same route each year on the same airline, we have a credit card for that airline that offers a companion fare. The credit card costs $75, the companion fare is $50. The route we fly is never less than $280, so even after we find the cheapest possible fare for the paying ticket, we save at least $155. The past couple years, fares have hovered around $350 and we save even more.

    I wrote up some of my other favorite money-saving travel tricks at:

  18. kepler11 says:

    If the story is real, I’m surprised that your mathematical and statistical friend doesn’t see the risk in gambling his $60,000/yr job to save you all $200 on an airline ticket.

  19. @Wormfather is Wormfather: also remember to calculate cost of lodging

  20. joebloe says:

    @newlywed: Do you pay for your own tickets or does corporate pays? 4-5 years ago you can get a transcontinental rt flight for $100 and frequently for $200. How is it cheaper nowaday with oil at $142?

  21. t325 says:

    Fly into alternate airports if you can. I went to Miami last month, and flights on Southwest from STL to Fort Lauderdale were about $150 cheaper than from STL to MIA on any of the legacy carriers.

    The only caveat was that our flight back home to STL had a layover in Orlando, but that layover was 30 minutes long (by the time we got off the plane in MCO and hauled ass across the terminal, they were just starting boarding, so it didn’t delay things much at all). The nonstop STL-FLL flights weren’t at convenient times for us. The legacys had more nonstop flights, but it just was not worth the extra cash at all. Especially, being 4 of us, that was $600 we saved.

    Plus, Southwest’s customer service can’t be beat, and all 4 of us each checked a bag without paying a dime more. And we got luxuries like soda and peanuts on the flight too. It was my first time on Southwest, and I’ll definitely be back.

  22. richcreamerybutter says:

    This really applies more to flying in general, but may save you money and improve the quality for what you are already spending.

    * book the earliest flight possible that day within your price range. Any possible problems or delays means you have that many more hours to get on a different flight.

    * always dress for first (or business) class if you like the idea of sitting in this section – basically, don’t wear tracksuits or disgusting jeans (look as though you’re ready to pitch a client), and be very polite to the employees. upgrades can happen, and if you are suddenly bumped forward on an international flight it’s worth the “trouble” of looking good and acting like a human being. Although this isn’t based strictly on dress, it doesn’t hurt your case if they are deciding between two solo fliers.

    * on that note, remember your crew is expected to be police, psychologists, paramedics, special-needs child care specialists, and hospitality professionals all in one. When you’re in doubt about the intensity of the turbulence, you count on the crew’s poker faces and smiles for reassurance. They will know CPR if you choke on your special meal, and have the ability to restrain that person who is suddenly out of control. After all that, they will smile and rush you out of the plane first so you don’t miss your connecting flight while also telling you about this inexpensive but amazing restaurant in your destination city. As amazing as they sound, they are not robots; do not treat them as such.

    Why is this one related to cheap travel? Although this is not my objective, it’s not unheard of to receive special treatment or the occasional free glass of wine. Plus, it’s nice to know I’m not contributing to their potentially shitty day.

    * research possible public transportation to and from the airport. I’m kind of amazed how many people will fork over $50 for someone who doesn’t even know how to get to the destination, and may be stuck in traffic. Plus, you can get a head start on observing the locals.

    Buses are great, but remember that trains are less likely to be delayed by traffic.

    * take that extra time to pack a lunch. Even if it only survives the airport, you will thank yourself. I remember recently Budget Travel had a great guide to making the most portable sandwich. I know that some of the big tips were to avoid mayo, and stick to crusty bread, greens that won’t wilt easily, cured meats, and hard cheeses.

  23. empkae says:

    I needed to travel to San Francisco. Too expensive. Instead, I booked a much cheaper flight to Sacramento and rented a car to drive to the city.

    Here is the weird part: The Sacramento flight stops in in San Francisco! I have to change planes to continue to Sacramento. The SF connection flight is the very same flight that costs substantially more when priced alone!

    I would just get off with carry on luggage in SF and not take the Sacramento trip, but think they will take punitive action and ban me from my return flight, which would be a trick to catch in SF anyway.

    WTF is the rationale of this kind of pricing?

  24. t325 says:

    @empkae: The airline likely has little competition in San Fran, so they can charge whatever the hell they want, whereas they have competition in Sacramento, so they need to be more competitive with their pricing.

    They know that the people who want to get to San Fran don’t have many other choices in airlines, so they jack up the prices, but they know you have a choice in airlines going into Sacramento, so they have to be more reasonable, even if there’s a layover in SF. I guess that’s about as logical as it’s going to get. Aren’t monopolies just great?

    Would I be correct in guessing that the airline in question was United? SFO is a large hub for them, but they have pretty stiff competition at SMF.

  25. kepler11 says:

    “always dress for first (or business) class if you like the idea of sitting in this section … upgrades can happen… Although this isn’t based strictly on dress, it doesn’t hurt your case if they are deciding between two solo fliers…”

    let me give you some advice and tell you all, don’t bother with this one. Unless something really odd happens and the gate staff need to suddenly choose someone randomly to fill a premium seat, you (a casual flier) will not be chosen just because you’re dressed well. All the major airlines have a set priority in which to draw on passengers if they need someone to be upgraded from the back. It usually goes by a combination of frequent flier status and fare paid. Why would they choose someone random and not likely to fly them again, over one of their own loyal customers?

    So, as I say, don’t waste your time dressing differently than you normally would, unless it makes you feel good or something, or you like people wondering why you’re all dressed up. The chance of something unusual happening like this is so remote you are better off spending your mental energy elsewhere and not being disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

    The biggest piece of advice I can give (and have given before), not about getting low fares particularly, but to not feel like you’re being jerked around by airlines, is to accumulate loyalty on one airline and learn about how its system works. And always fly with your frequent flier number on your boarding pass. It’s not there just to credit the miles. And you can instantly tell who’s an amateur by the fact that there’s no FF# on their boarding pass…

  26. kepler11 says:

    the rationale for this pricing is that the airline wants to be able to offer service from SMF to compete with other carriers, and they price their tickets as if they’re flying from SMF to your final destination nonstop so it’s competitive with others. But this involves flying through SFO if they don’t actually have nonstop service, and for that reason it may seem odd that the fare is cheaper than just from SFO — which is more expensive because there may be many more fliers in SFO who are willing to pay more for it.

    The airline is not stupid, so it puts in a side restriction that you cannot just use the “inner” ticket from SFO, because your agreement and price was for a ticket based in SMF. If you skip the SMF-SFO portions, your ticket will be canceled (actually not the return portion, but that is getting a little bit more advanced than possible to discuss here).

    Basically, the fact that you are connecting through SFO is irrelevant to the airline, they believe that they’re giving you a ticket from SMF-xyz at a certain price, and the fact that you connect through SFO is not important — if there were a schedule change, they might send you through Denver instead.

    So the thing to do I think is to accept that if you want to fly to SFO, you will have to pay SFO prices. Or drive to SMF.

    By the way, by this information I would predict that SFO-SMF is a good candidate for a route that the airline wants to ax or reduce capacity on.

  27. kepler11 says:

    the reason the pricing is strange is that the airline wants to be able to offer service from SMF to compete with other carriers there, and has to offer a price attractive to fliers in SMF. The airlines price *routes*, not individual flights, and it doesn’t really “care” that you have to connect through SFO (it could send you through DEN), so you have the situation that you find it strange that SFO fares are more expensive when it includes the same exact flight.

    But in SFO, there are more fliers who are willing to pay more $ to get where they’re going, and for that reason if you want to fly straight into SFO you will have to pay more. It is not about how much a flight costs, but how much people in any given city are willing to pay for flights that determines what you are going to have to pay for it too.

    Finally, the airline is not stupid, and knows people will consider doing this to pay a cheaper fare, so it has the side rule that your ticket is an agreement to use it as bought and as contracted. So you are right, you cannot just use the “inner” portion of the ticket, because they will cancel it after you miss a flight (although there are some clever ways around it on the return, but that is for experts who know how and want to risk it).

    As a side note, be happy that you can get a cheaper ticket to SMF, and also consider whether it’s worth the extra trouble of not simply flying to where you actually want to go. Sometimes it is not. And finally, from the info you’ve given, I would say the SFO-SMF flight is a prime candidate for a route that will be axed or get severe flight reductions later this summer…

  28. t325 says:

    @kepler11: Yeah, that’s another caveat people fail to mention with hidden city ticketing. You pay for a ticket to get you from point A to point C via point B. But point B can change

    Lets say you purchase a ticket on United for IAD-ORD-SFO with the intention of flying just IAD-ORD leg. Well, if there’s bad weather in Chicago, they can change your routing to IAD-DEN-SFO. Now, you’re pretty much screwed and have no recourse with the airline because the ticket you bought was to get you from IAD to SFO, and they’ll still be holding up their end of the bargain.