Top 10 Tips for Booking Cheap Flights
We love to give advice on how to help you save money when you book flights. After all, we are CheapAir.com. We’ve compiled our most popular advice below to help you find your next cheap flight.
Let us know if you have questions.
1. Check Fares Early & Often – Test
Do you know that, on average, the fare difference between the best day to buy your airline ticket and the worst is $236! And that doesn’t even include people who purchase within 7 days (who pay even more!). Airlines change fares constantly, often multiple times a week. So when it comes to buying an airline ticket, timing is everything. We recommend that you start checking fares as soon as you know you’ll be flying. Then, check continuously, at least once a week to get a sense of what’s a good deal. And when you find a fare you like, be ready to pull the trigger since the same fare may not be around for very long.
We know it sounds crazy (and exasperating) but the airlines use very sophisticated computer systems to adjust fares literally in real-time. Buying an airline ticket really can be like playing the stock market! (Learn more about why airfares fluctuate.)
2. Buy Flights at the Right Time
Knowing when to buy your flights can be the best tip for saving some serious cash on your next trip. We did a study last year and found that for domestic flights 49 days (about 7 weeks in advance) was, on average, the optimal time to buy plane tickets. But that number can vary quite a bit depending on where and when you’re going. The most important takeaway from our study: you’ll likely pay a big premium for booking too late (within 14 days), or for booking too early (more than 5 months in advance). Somewhere between 3 weeks and 4 months in advance is usually the sweet spot for flights within the U.S., although all bets are off if you’re traveling for a holiday or other peak time (see #4 below).
3. Some Days are Cheaper than Others
The day of the week you fly on can make a big difference in your air fare. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the least expensive days for domestic flights and Friday and Sunday are the most expensive. (Monday, Thursday, and Saturday are in the middle). The difference between a Tuesday flight and a Sunday flight is $29 each way on average, or $58 round trip. If you’re traveling for the weekend, consider Saturday to Monday or Tuesday instead of a Thursday or Friday to Sunday trip. And if you’re traveling for a full week, Tuesday to Tuesday or Wednesday to Wednesday is often your best bet. More generally, if you’re willing to be flexible, check a bunch of alternate dates around the same time period because you never know when there might be one combination of dates that has a fare a lot lower than the dates around it.
4. Be Mindful of Seasonality & Holidays
Knowing when to go can matter just as much as when to buy. Because the most important factor that influences the price of a particular flight is how full that flight is, it makes sense that travel during Spring Break, Thanksgiving, or Christmas time would be more expensive than normal. Similarly, some destinations, especially international ones, are very seasonal in nature so research the low and peak seasons for the places you’re interested in visiting. If you’re going to Europe, for example, you can find some amazing deals during the February and March low season, but if you want to go during the summer, you’ll pay up to double the price. If you do need to travel to popular places at popular times, you usually want to book earlier than you otherwise would since discount seats are likely to sell out quickly.
5. Mix and Match Airlines to get the Cheapest Flights
CheapAir.com features a “Mix & Match” category that essentially lets you combine two one way fares that may or may not be on the same airline, to form a round trip. “Mix & Match” options come in handy when either (1) the best possible fare for an itinerary requires travel on one airline going out and another airline coming back; or (2) the airline with the most convenient outbound flight doesn’t have a convenient return flight or vice versa.
6. Sign Up for Airfare Alerts and Track Routes
To help keep an eye on fare trends, sign up for CheapAir FareTracker alerts. You’ll get notified more quickly when a sale starts and get a head start when only a limited number of seats are available. Acting quickly when a fare sale starts can save you a lot of money.
7. Prepare for Extra Bag Fees
Different airlines have different policies on baggage. Most charge for checked bags and some even charge for carry-on. You should factor that into your purchase decision. CheapAir makes that easy: when you see a list of flight options on our site, just hover over any of them with your mouse and you will see, among other things, the amount that airline charges for bags. With some airlines it’s also important that, once you buy your ticket, you pay for your bags ahead of time by going to the airline website because they may charge a premium if you wait until you get to the airport. Read more about airline baggage fees and what you need to know before you fly.
8. Check Alternate Airports
If there is more than one airport near your origin or destination city, check them both. The more options you have in terms of airports and travel dates, the more likely you will find what may be one of the last discount seats to where you are going. CheapAir automatically checks some nearby airports for you (San Francisco and Oakland; Miami and Ft. Lauderdale; New York and Newark; Washington, DC and Baltimore), but if you are willing to use other alternates, you should check those, too, by doing separate searches.
9. Break up Families or Groups into Separate Purchases
This one sounds counter-intuitive – the more people that go, the better the rate should be, right? That’s rarely true with the airlines; “group discounts” are few and far between. Because airlines will typically limit the number of seats per flight they sell at their lowest rate, sometimes you can actually price yourself right out of a good deal simply by having too many passengers. If, for instance, Airline X has two seats remaining on a flight at $100 and a bunch of other seats available for $150, if you do a search for a group of 4, the price that will come back will be $150. But if you search for two seats at a time you can buy two for $100 and only have to pay the extra $50 for the second two.
How do you know when to do this? Always search first for your whole group at once to make sure that the flight has enough seats to accommodate everyone. Then try the same search for a smaller group. If the price comes out lower for the smaller group, buy the seats for the smaller group, and then do a subsequent search for the rest of your party. It can be a lot of work but, hey, if it saves money…
10. Buy on a Site that Offers Price Drop Payback
OK, this is a somewhat shameless plug, but we think it’s justified. CheapAir’s unique Price Drop Payback program is as simple as this: if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! We are proud to be the only U.S. travel site that offers this buyer protection and we hope this program will arm you with buying confidence.
CheapAir Travel Advisors are committed to helping you book your next flight and helping you find that awesome travel deal. Use this list as an airfare booking guide. What’s your favorite tip?