Flights You Fancy

Getting the Best Deal on Airfare

Everyone knows you need to book flights in advance if you want to save money.  And sanity. That’s about where the clarity ends.

When should you book?  When can you find the cheapest rates?  Where do you look? Is it different for international flights?  Should you book directly through the airline or through a third party site?  Should you wait and see if the rates drop any lower? SEND HELP.

Finding an awesome deal and saving money on flights is almost as good as sleeping in on the weekends.  But since we both know you’ll never sleep in again here are my best tips to help you find flights you fancy.  

Find the cheapest time to fly  

There are certain times of the year when flights are typically more expensive.  If your travel dates are flexible, avoid flying during these peak times to save money.  If your travel dates aren’t flexible, well…then nevermind.

For domestic flights, avoid traveling at least two weeks before and two weeks after major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.  Once winter holiday travels have ceased, January and the first part of February are considered off-season and flights are typically cheaper until March, when spring break travel begins.  

For international flights, no matter your destination avoid traveling at least two weeks before and two weeks after major holidays, especially Christmas, New Years, and any other major holidays celebrated at your destination…everybody’s got an Independence Day.  Flights to Europe will be more expensive during the summer vacation months of May through August, particularly in June and July.

No matter your destination, domestic or international, look for the cheapest airfare to be midweek or at least as far away from the weekend as you can get.  Everyone wants to fly Friday through Sunday so airlines are usually eager to offload cheaper midweek tickets.

Find the airline sweet spot

One of the biggest dilemmas involved with booking flights is WHEN to do it, and the answer to this question just depends on WHERE you’re going.  It’s all about finding the sweet spot, when ticket prices are the lowest. This is when you’ll want to book! 

The average sweet spot for domestic flights is anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months in advance of your travel date.  Yes, I know that’s like your pain in the arse cable company telling you your window of service is sometime between 8:00am and 5:00pm.  Sooooo helpful right? The average international sweet spot is even wilder, largely depending on the destination and ranging anywhere from 2 months to 7 months in advance.  Ha! Fear not, a massive study done by Cheapair.com (click here) saves the day. Cheapair gives the average breakdown of the number of days in advance of your travel date you’re most likely to find the cheapest airfare rates when booking to or from the U.S.:

  • Africa:  199 days
  • Asia:  120 days
  • Canada:  66 days
  • Caribbean:  207 days
  • Central America:  70 days
  • Europe:  160 days
  • Mexico:  70 days
  • Middle East:  199 days
  • South America:  110 days
  • South Pacific:  197 days

The study done by Cheapair.com is insane.  They analyzed 917 million airfares in 8,000 different markets and have even broken the fares down into six different “booking zones.”  If you want more detailed info on the best time to buy flights, I HIGHLY recommend you check out the full study HERE (click here).

All the travel experts agree that if you book last-minute you’re going to pay more.  Apparently they also agree that if you book too far in advance you could end up paying just as much as booking a last-minute ticket.  This makes my anxiety crazy. I want to book aaallll of the things in advance, like months and months and months in advance.  But Cheapair found that tickets 6-11 months in advance actually do tend to be more expensive, as flights have just opened up and airlines are less desperate to make sales.  Darn you, Cheapair. Mind yo business next time!

Do some market research

Just because you want to BOOK during the sweet spot doesn’t mean you can’t LOOK at fares earlier on in the planning process.  This will help you become familiar with the market and typical flight costs, so when a good deal comes along later on you’ll know it and will be able to book quickly.  Google Flights (click here) helps you easily track airline fares early on. You can pull up monthly calendars and see the lowest fares listed for each day, allowing you to easily identify patterns and price drops during certain days of the week.

For domestic flights, book on a Tuesday

If an airline decides to have a fare sale, it’ll most likely post on a Monday night, releasing the tickets first thing Tuesday morning.  The other airlines will catch wind and scramble to match the price and begin their own sales ASAP Tuesday morning. But buy quickly, usually airlines pull the sales a day later.  International flights…poor international flights. Airlines can’t agree on a particular day of the week to discount those. Your guess is as good as theirs!

Consider an alternative airport

If you live reasonably close to a larger city, especially one within driving distance, consider traveling to the larger city first and flying out from its airport.  Many airlines offer significantly cheaper airfare flying in and out of larger airports, especially for international flights.

For example, a roundtrip flight from Indianapolis to London runs about $1100 a person.  Indy is a fairly large city but Chicago is just a 3-hour drive north. Chicago’s airport is massive compared to Indy’s and offers many more international flights.  A roundtrip flight from Chicago to London runs about $550 a person, half of Indy’s fare. If you’re traveling with a family of 4, that’s a savings of $2200. Score!

Hold up.  You’ll have to also consider the cost of gas, airport parking, and overnight accommodations if needed.  This option may not be doable depending on your proximity to a larger airport and it would also lengthen an already-exhausting travel itinerary.  Think long and hard about whether or not traveling to an alternative airport with actually save you money in the end and whether or not this savings will be worth the extra hassle.   

Book your own connections

Let’s use Indy again.  A roundtrip flight from Indy to London runs about $1250.  Not bad, eh? But lookie here: A round trip from Indy to NYC is about $200, while a round trip from NYC to London is about $500 = $700.  That’s a $550 savings per person, ballpark, by booking your own connecting flights as separate tickets..

The stars must align for this to happen and it takes very VERY careful planning, and I do mean CAREFUL.  Your incoming flight times much match up with your outbound flight times and you need ample ample ample time in between to allow for any delays.  Technically you’ll have a whole separate ticket instead of a connection, so if you miss your second flight the airline will shrug their shoulders and say whelp, you should’ve booked the whole thing with us in the first place.  If booking international flights beware of the +1 day (overnight) times and triple check to make sure you have the right dates for separate tickets.

This option may not line up for you every time or may not be worth the extra hassle of booking separate tickets, but the potential savings could be so significant that this option deserves some serious time and research before finalizing your plans!   

Use your online resources wisely

Travel arrangements are more complicated when your trip requires multiple destinations or if you’re meeting up with loved ones traveling from different cities.  Thank goodness for the internet.

Tripmatch (click here) allows you to search for flights from two different departure airports simultaneously to arrive at a common destination.  You can enter multiple origins, meeting dates, and destinations and the site will compare prices and travel times to find the best way to synchronize your trip.  Skyscanner (click here) also allows you to search for flights based off of a point of origin instead of a destination. The ITA Matrix (click here) uses some of the most powerful flight search software in the world to crunch metadata from airline carriers.  Google Flights uses most of the ITA Matrix software, but searching through the official matrix website could catch some deals that the other search engines miss.

Search incognito

COOKIES.  I’m not talking about the ones you use for bribes…I mean “rewards”.  I’m talking about the cookies most websites and flight search engines use to track your internet search history.  This is convenient when you want to bookmark and monitor flight prices on a daily basis but this means THEY’RE WATCHING YOU and will only show you the lowest fare the very first time you view the itinerary.  Then the next time you come back the prices have magically gone up and OHMYGOD WE BETTER BOOK NOW because TICKET PRICES ARE GOING UP. Airlines are experts in creating a sense of urgency and more often than not it works.  Sneaky.

By browsing incognito, or in private, you’ll disable a website’s ability to use their tracking cookies to pull a fast one on you.  To open an incognito window in Google Chrome, click on the three vertical dots to the right of where you enter in a website at the very top of your screen then click “open new incognito window”.  Voila! A secret little detective window pops up and it’s quite exciting and fancy. In Internet Explorer, at the top of your screen and to the right of where you enter in a website you’ll see a house, a star, and what I call a bumpy doughnut thing but my husband tells me is actually a gear.  Click on the bumpy doughnut, then Safety, then InPrivate browsing. It’s the same thing as Chrome’s incognito window but not as exciting. Remember to open an incognito window BEFORE accessing the airline or search engine’s website or your plan will be foiled.  

Sign up for change in airfare alerts

Cheapair discovered that the fare for a flight changes an average of 71 TIMES between its opening and the day it takes off.  That’s an average price change of every four and half days at a rate of $33 up or down. Ain’t nobody got time to keep track of all that.  Let technology do it for you.

Dozens of apps and websites allow you to enter a destination and sign up to receive alerts every time there is a change in airfare prices for that itinerary.  Google Flights (click here) allows you to do this, as well as FareCompare (click here), Kiwi (click here), and Hopper (click here). Airfarewatchdog (click here) is another great resource that includes flights from Southwest Airlines, which many others don’t.  Momondo (click here) is helpful in comparing rates available across all travel search engines.

Scott’s Cheap Flights

If you’re traveling internationally and have some flexibility, enter: your new BFF, Scott.  Scott’s Cheap Flights (click here) scours millions of flights and when a great deal pops up or an airline makes a mistake (which happens more often than you’d think), they send you an email with instructions on how to book the deal.  The basic membership is free and will earn you 1 out of 3 deal alerts. For $39 a year you can upgrade to the premium membership, which includes all deal alerts, all mistake fares, all secret sales, and the perk of seeing the deals at least 30 minutes before those with a basic membership.  If you travel abroad even occasionally the $39 membership is well worth the money. If your travel dates are limited and you need specific flights, stick with the basic membership. Many people have saved hundreds of dollars using Scott’s Cheap Flights. Scott deserves some flowers!

Book directly through the airline

Some people debate this but if you find a great deal through a third-party retailer (TPR) like Expedia or Kayak, compare it to the price listed on the airline’s website before booking.  If there is little to no difference in cost, book through the airline’s website when traveling with your family, especially if you’re booking international flights.

Most of the time TPR’s don’t list discounted airfare like Infant Fares, Child Fares, and fares for traveling with your pets.  These can offer significant saves for families traveling with little ones but you can only access these rates through the airline’s website.  Several airlines also won’t allow you to accrue the same amount (if any) of frequent flier miles when you book through a TPR.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to book directly through the airline is for customer service purposes.  Think of all the hiccups that occur when you’re flying: delays, cancellations, missed connections, mechanical issues, lost baggage, etc.  If you’ve booked your flight through a TPR, the airline will not provide assistance if anything goes wrong with your reservation. The airline will just direct you to handle all of these issues through your booking agency.  And from my personal experience having to reschedule a missed connection didn’t go nearly as smooth through the TPR as it did through the airline. TPR’s typically aren’t nearly as flexible when making changes to your itinerary, or will charge you hefty fees to do so.  

If budget is your bottom line, TPR’s are tempting.  Many TPR’s offer privately negotiated rates and some of the deals are hard to turn down.  If you find an unbeatable deal through a TPR, check to see if the website has a high-quality rating and 24-hour customer service availability.  Be sure to carefully read the TPR’s policies and have a back-up plan for what to do if something goes wrong with your reservation.

No matter when you plan on traveling you can find cheap flights online at any time.  They key is knowing where to look and when to book. A little extra research can go a long way in snagging you the best deal for your next family adventure!

So this one time I got so sick the night before a trip that I couldn’t travel the next day.  I had booked our airfare directly through the airline and when I called to reschedule our travel plans, I was credited the full amount for what I originally paid for the airfare and was able to move my flights to a different week – no penalty fees or hidden costs involved.  And because the airfare was cheaper the second time around, I actually ended up with an airline credit. T

his would not have been the case had I booked through most TPR’s. It actually saved me money to puke all night long!