This year, airfare prices are up and competition for limited seat availability is fierce. Shopping for flights can be frustrating, exhausting and confusing when you don’t know the rules of the road. Here are 5 mistakes you can easily make if you’re not careful. We will show you how to make better vacation shopping choices.

1. Buying your flight too late

Everyone wants to get the “best” deal and this can very easily cause you to shop yourself right into a much more expensive ticket. People shop and compare and shop and compare, and before you know it the “good” fare that was there is gone. Poof! Just like that. In our Annual Airfare Study, we show you the “sweet spot” for buying flights.

That optimal purchasing period is called the prime booking window. Year to year it can fluctuate, but generally speaking you’re looking at 3 weeks to around 4 months to shop for the best priced flights. Sometimes you can get a good price at 3 months out, sometimes 4. But 3 weeks is as close to your travel date as you can reasonably put off a flight and still expect to get a decently-priced flight. After that, the airlines jack up prices like clockwork – at the 3 week, 2 week and 1 week mark. Read more about this here.

2. On the other hand, buying your flight too early can also be problematic

Just like some people wait and wait thinking that a magic fare will materialize right before departure date (reader: it NEVER does), some travelers also jump the gun and go out too early. Now, if you’re the early bird type that wants to be able to choose the exact seat on the plane that you want – then it may not be a mistake for you. But if you’re shopping on price and want the best deal – it doesn’t happen when the fare has just been published. Remember the prime booking window? Wait for it.

3. Being too rigid in your preferences

There are very few mistakes you can make that are bigger than this one. Let’s paint a picture. Julie and Shana live in Chicago and both need to buy flights to their friend’s destination wedding in Napa this October. Julie keeps her dates flexible when she starts her flight search, and she’s not too picky about what time of day she can travel. She also sets her flight search to “San Francisco Area” airports and she’s okay with a 2 hour layover in Denver. Ultimately, she finds a flight into Oakland which is almost $150 cheaper than any of the flights into SFO, and since she saved so much on the flight, she decides to spend a bit more and gets a Economy Plus ticket with extra legroom. Final price? Just $210.

Shana will only fly into SFO (she just likes the airport better in San Fran), she refuses to take a flight that is too early or too late, must be a nonstop and she wants to fly out on a Friday and return on a Sunday (often the busiest and most expensive days to travel). Because of those choices, she gets stuck with some pretty expensive flights and she has to settle for a Basic Economy fare of $300. When she gets closer to her travel day, Shana realizes that she can’t travel with just a carry-on, so she has to shell out another $40 for a checked bag. And then, on her departure day, she has a migraine and doesn’t feel like dealing with not having a seat. She spends another $40 at check in to get an upgrade so she can get an aisle seat. Final price? $380.

The extent to which flexibility in your flight preferences can save you money cannot be underestimated.

4. Buying before you understand exactly what is included with your ticket

When you shop for flights and price is your main focus, it can be easy to just jump on the first low-cost airfare you see. If you’re not booking with a low-cost airline, you might make assumptions about your ticket that are inaccurate. For example, most airlines now operate on an a la carte business model. This means that they all mostly offer a Basic Economy fare class which is as stripped back as can be. You’re basically just paying for a seat – any seat – on the plane. In order to choose an aisle or window seat you’ll have to pony up more cash. Same if you want extra legroom. And we haven’t even discussed baggage yet!

A Basic Economy domestic ticket usually doesn’t come with any carry-on or checked baggage allowance. So you’ll have to fork over some more cash for those amenities. And some airlines even charge you more if you wait to do this at the airport on your departure day. See how the extras quickly add up? Save yourself the headache and the nickel and diming. On CheapAir.com, you can do a comparison of up to 5 flights to see exactly what is included (and not) on each ticket.

5. Attempting to get the “best” airfare over a “good” one

The very last big mistake people make is trying to get the absolute lowest fare for a given flight. This can be such a time suck, as well as a frustrating wild goose chase – setting endless alerts on various sites and obsessively searching on every flight search and airline site multiple times a day. The bad news is that you probably won’t get the lowest price – even if you’re searching morning, noon and night for it. After all, many people are shopping the same itinerary. A much better, and less stressful approach is to search in the early side of the prime booking window for a few days to get a sense of what is a good, fair price for your trip. And then, you just buy it. No regrets!

If you shop with us, you’ll even get a little built in insurance should your fare dip after you buy. We offer a feature called Price Drop Payback, so you can be sure you’re being treated fairly.

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6 Comments

  1. What Isi it with Frontier, I bought tickets through what I thought was cheap air, but was actually One Travel . When I try to check it to confirm with Frontier air I was told to pay additional $ 57 to confirm otherwise I will be on standby.I booked it on line. Given a confirmation number then I payed it with my Visa card . I had to pay cuz I did not have any more time to switch flights. Where did I do wrong? And Frontier can not come up with an explanation either.

    • Hi Ruby, that sounds very odd. Usually, you paid for the flight or you didn’t, not much in between. Is it maybe a baggage fee, those are paid separately? Also, I am not sure how you ended up on another site. My only thought is it maybe you clicked on an advertisement for the other site. Unfortunately, we cannot research more into the Frontier fee since it was not booked through us. We hope next time you will find your way to us so that we can serve you. Thank you

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