Following these tips can save you hundreds of dollars whenever—and wherever—you fly

Airplane Facing Front / You May Now Move about the World: How to Book the Cheapest Airfare for Every Trip
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February 17, 2017

Although the Great Recession is officially over, many people still don't want to spend more than they have to on travel for vacations and holidays. And why should they?

Fact: They don't.

It turns out that there are several ways in which they can minimize what they pay on airfare. Following these tips won't make you rich, but they may help you stick to your budget so you can take that vacation without breaking the bank.

  1. Book at least six weeks in advance.
  2. According to a study by Airlines Reporting Corporation, passengers often pay the lowest price—an amount almost six percent lower than the average fare—when they buy their tickets six weeks before the flight. The Corporation's managing director of data and analytics, Churck Thackston, does note that "This is just a trend. Airlines will make valuable deals available all the time," but he adds that "on average, we see this 42-day approach works."

  3. Look for morning deals.
  4. Thackston advises passengers to book flights early because airlines post only a limited number of seats for lower prices during the night hours. Although a few airlines release discounted tickets at various times throughout the day, early morning is when most such deals will be available.

  5. Try to fly out early on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday.
  6. A recent Farecompare.com study found that the least expensive day to fly domestically is Wednesday. "The day with the most seats is likely to have better supply, and thus ... more empty seats that require discounting to fill the plane—meaning they have to release more seats at their cheapest price point," the website explains. It notes that the other low-cost days to fly are Tuesday and Saturday, while Friday and Sunday are the most expensive.

    In addition, the cheapest flights are usually the first flights of the morning, followed by those during or after lunch or at dinnertime.

  7. Fly on actual holidays.
  8. If you fly on an actual holiday—especially on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day—you'll save a lot of money. The exception to this rule is the three-day weekend around Labor Day or Memorial Day, when everyone is trying to fly on the actual holiday.

  9. Check budget airlines individually.
  10. Although comparison sites are useful, they don't always do all the work for you. Some budget airlines, such as Southwest and Ryanair, don't let popular comparison websites quote their ticket prices, according to Rick Seaney, chief executive of Farecompare. So check their prices yourself, and make sure they don't tack on extra fees that raise the cost, such as large baggage-check charges.

  11. Build a relationship.
  12. Are you a member of an airline's frequent-flyer program? Do you have a credit card tied to the airline? If either of these is true for you, you automatically have an advantage over other passengers. "The more the airline knows you, the more it tailors its pricing to you," explains Joe Brancatelli, publisher of travel website JoeSentMe.com.

  13. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode.
  14. Airlines want you to buy your tickets as quickly as possible. For that reason, they use the cookies in your browser to increase flight prices when you search for a particular route several times. If you want to see the lowest prices, always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode. To start with a clean slate every time you search for a flight, close all of your incognito windows, open a new one, then search.

  15. Choose a budget or local airline.
  16. Budget or low-cost airlines offer tickets that are significantly cheaper than their major counterparts, though it should be noted that you may have to accept less leg room and no "free" food/drink onboard if you fly with one of these. When you're thinking about flying with a budget airline, check the location of the airport, since some fly to airports out of town (and don't rule out those alternate airports!); make sure you've booked and paid for your luggage allowance; and always read the fine print to ensure that you don't violate the rules and get charged a fee.

    Traveling a less-popular route or to a remote region? Find out if there is a local airline. Checking their websites sometimes reveals exclusive online offers that regular search engines don't show.

  17. Traveling long distances? Book long-haul flights yourself.
  18. If you're traveling to a location involving a flight transfer, it might be cheaper to book the legs of the flight separately yourself by adding another destination if you want a layover that lasts more than a few hours. Find out if there are budget airlines unique to both the country you're flying out of and the one you're traveling to.

  19. Consider using a travel agent.
  20. Travel agents get special undercut rates inaccessible to the public, though this does not always mean they can give you the best price. It's a good idea to find the cheapest flight you can first, then give them that information to find out if the can match or beat it, especially for long-haul flights.

  21. Find out if it's cheaper to pay in another currency.
  22. Before you book a flight, find out if it would be cheaper to pay in another currency. Note that budget airlines often—but don't always—require you to pay in the currency of the country you're leaving. If you pay in another currency with a credit card, make sure it doesn't charge foreign-transaction fees.

  23. Look for airline error fares.
  24. Sometimes airlines make mistakes when they post fares, resulting in significantly-discounted flights. If you find one of these fares, you can save a ton of money by booking it.

  25. Got flight points? Use them!
  26. Have you been racking up flight points over the years and then forgetting about them? Pull them out and use them to save on your next flight.

  27. Search for tickets one at a time.
  28. Even when you fly with a group, airlines frequently sell many fare classes for different prices, offering a few seats in each class. For instance, if only one seat remains in the lowest fare class and you search for four seats, most automated systems will show the highest class fare for all four tickets. There may be limited seats on sale, so try searching one at a time. If you get a cheap fare and can choose your seats, select one next to an empty seat, immediately book the second ticket, and choose the seat next to the first one.

  29. Need a hotel, too? Book a package.
  30. If you need a hotel as well as a flight, it might be cheaper to buy a flight-and-hotel package than to buy each separately. Many hotels hide significant discounts within packaged prices, and travelers often find deals for major brands that hesitate to include a low price beside their name alone.

  31. Travel during the shoulder season and off-peak times.
  32. There are certain times of the year when popular destinations have fewer visitors, and in response they lower flight and hotel prices. For example, flights to Europe in winter are more than $400 lower in cost than in the peak months. Don't miss out on savings by sticking to the most popular times of the year!

References: U.S. News & World Report, Thrifty Nomads, Travelzoo