Cheap airfare can be elusive. A few weeks ago I found an incredible deal for my upcoming trip to Cabo San Lucas. But by the time I went back to Kayak to book the flight, gas prices had increased considerably and so had the cost of my tickets.
It turns out it’s a good thing I waited. Today, I stumbled across a social media post from Alaska Airlines offering roundtrip, non-stop fare for $150 per person less than I had seen advertised elsewhere. The only downside is I have to stay in Mexico a day longer than I planned, but who doesn’t want an extra 24 hours of vacation?
The truth is airfare depends on so many different factors, it’s hard to make blanket statements about when, where, and how to book your tickets. Texas A&M University recently crunched the numbers and determined that weekends are the best time to book your flight. But another recent study by Expedia found that Tuesdays actually offer the lowest fares, but only by a slim margin. (Our two cents? Buy your tickets Tuesday night after 9:00 p.m., and avoid booking Friday through Monday when fares are typically higher.)
The rule of thumb is you should shop around for several weeks, use diverse tactics to look up rates, and jump as soon as you see a good deal. What constitutes “a good deal” will vary by destination, but we can fill you in on a few of the ways we find them.
- Book Early, Most of the Time. Advice varies on when exactly to book your flight, but the consensus seems to be that flights are cheapest six to eight weeks before departure except for holiday travel, which should be booked six months in advance. If your booking window is smaller, you can actually find some incredible last-minute deals, but you need to be very flexible with your destination and dates.
- Don’t Fly on Weekends or Midday. Thursday through Sunday flights are in demand and therefore more expensive. Beat the system by flying midweek and, even better, taking a red-eye flight or one that leaves first thing in the morning. An added perk is you’ll beat the crowds and the potential delays!
- Compare Nearby Airports. When researching flights from Southern California to Cabo, I saw significant differences when comparing airports. John Wayne Airport in Orange County may not be as convenient as San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, but if it’s going to save my family $300 I’ll take it! (Bonus Tip: Avoid connecting through San Francisco and O’Hare in the winter. Storms often cause delays in these major hubs. Similarly, if you have a close connection, go through the George Bush in Houston rather than Dallas-Fort Worth. DFW has trams and long corridors that could cause you to miss your flight.)
- Watch Twitter. Many airlines post hot deals on social media, with Twitter being the main hub. In addition to following @AlaskaAir, consider @VirginAmerica, @JetBlueCheeps, and @United. There are also websites like @airfarewatchdog that tweet about rates from multiple airlines.
- Sign-Up for Emails. Get the latest deals delivered straight to your inbox by joining frequent flier programs for free. An added perk is that you’ll collect points when you do book. Looking for specific dates and destinations but not a specific airline? Sign-up for targeted alerts using an online travel agency like Expedia or a travel search engine like Hipmunk.
- Consider International Airlines. Why not start your cross-cultural experience early? In college, I flew Air India from Chicago to London. The flight attendants wore Indian-inspired uniforms and served curry during the transatlantic flight. The best part? I paid $250 roundtrip, a steal even back then.
- Buy One-Way Tickets. Contrary to popular opinion, you won’t save any money booking roundtrip tickets. Buying one-way tickets also gives you greater flexibility. If you need to make a change or miss your originating flight, you won’t invalidate the entire ticket.
- Book Directly with Airlines. Use travel search engines to research your fares, but then book directly with your airline of choice. If you have a problem with your ticket, the airline will locate your reservation more quickly and provide better customer services.
Through many adventures abroad, including working in a Spanish inn making beds, cooking batches of paella, and conversing with inn guests, Christine Anderson discovered her passion for hospitality and copywriting. She joined Grand Pacific Resorts and ResorTime last year eager to inspire others to travel through her writing.