The cost of your flight can be the most expensive, not to mention confusing and stressful, part of planning any trip. You know that the purchase price is an ever-changing and evolving beast. One day it's surprisingly cheap, the next it's prohibitively expensive. There are all sorts of sites and apps that are designed to help you but where do you start? How do you prevent yourself from overpaying? We've distilled the best expert advice into six cardinal rules. Follow these and you'll be sure to have plenty of cash left in your pocket to spend once you get to your destination.
Here's the good news/bad news. There isn't some magic trick to scoring the best travel deals. Despite all the often-recycled myths that get perpetuated online. There's no exact date or time period in which to book the most affordable airfare. It's not any cheaper to book a ticket on a Tuesday. And while it's true that ticket prices change based on demand, there's no evidence that using "private browsing" or clearing your cookies scores you a better deal.
The enemy of affordable travel is rigidity. If you have to be somewhere, at a certain time on a specific date, you're going to pay for the privilege. Look, airlines are a business trying to make money. They know that they've got something you need and want to sell it to you. So when a holiday, major event, festival or school break is coming up, airlines will raise their prices accordingly. August, for example is a big month for traveling throughout Europe and who doesn't want to jet somewhere warm in the winter? The key is flying when the least amount of people are traveling. Hence, it's cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend.
If you're looking to head to a destination but aren't in a hurry, utilize price alerts. No one wants a cluttered inbox, but if you sign up for mailing lists from airlines and search engines, you'll be able to get updates about all the last-minute deals or specials available. You're also able to tailor the searches for your desired trip. Google Flights has an easy price tracker and you'll receive alerts as soon as prices have changed for that trip. AirfareWatchdog is another reliable service that will send you great options for specific destinations along with last-minute deals. Or Scott's Cheap Flights, a service that emails you discounted or mistake fares (mostly international) as they become available. You set your departure airport and it details the airline and price range for tickets along with how long that deal is expected to last. (Recent find: Chicago to Tokyo for $424 instead of the typical $1,000 per ticket price.)
Don't Forget About Budget Carriers
When it comes to booking a ticket, most of us start by searching the major travel sites. But don't forget about budget carriers, such as Southwest, Spirit and JetBlue, which only offer flights via their own websites to reduce the company's costs. The result is often less expensive routes across the US, to Hawaii and even to the Caribbean. What's more, budget airlines now service many long-haul routes, making it possible to fly around the world for very little money. If you want to fly to Europe, check out a carrier like Norwegian or Iceland's Wow Air. Asia? You can find some insanely cheap deals on flights to both Asia and Australia through AirAsia.
Looking for a last minute flight? Feeling lucky? If you've waited until the last minute to book, or a trip has suddenly come up, your ticket prices can be outrageously expensive. If you don't want to pay so much, give up a bit of control by booking mystery deals. Most booking sites like Travelocity and Priceline offer them, and while you won't know the exact flight times or carrier, you get enough information to make an informed decision about whether the lower price is worth the risk.
When you search for more than one ticket, an airline will typically sell all the seats for the price of the most expensive seat. For example, if you and two friends are searching for three seats, the airline will find three seats together and quote you a fare based on the highest ticket price. Which means if seat one is $200, seat two is $250 and seat three is $275, it will price all of those seats as $275 each instead of adding up the individual ticket prices. So you're better off searching for tickets as a single person. Afterwards, in the checkout process, you can pick your seats so you and your party are sitting together.