15 Facts About Booking Cheap Flights Every Traveler Should Know
These hacks will save you money on your next travel venture.
Let's face it: Traveling is incredibly expensive. Not only that, but because airfares fluctuate so frequently, you're always left feeling like you could've scored a better deal. And it turns out, if you follow a few simple tricks, you probably can! In order to leave you feeling great after every flight purchase, we've uncovered the most important facts to know about booking cheap flights.
Tickets are sometimes cheaper if you book them one at a time.
The reason why you can save this way is because "airlines often sell multiple fare classes at different prices, with a couple seats in each class," write the deal experts at Travel Zoo. "If there's only one seat left in the lowest fare class and you search for four seats, most automated systems will show you the highest fare class for all four tickets."
That means if you search the tickets separately and then as a block, you might find some wildly different rates. And remember: If you do decide to book one at a time, make sure there's no per-ticket processing charge that would offset any savings—especially if you're booking through an online travel agency instead of through the airline. You'll also want to select your seats in advance, so you can still sit next to your travel buddies.
There are a ton of outdated travel "hacks" you should definitely ignore.
Ever heard that Tuesdays are the best day to book a flight? Or that you should search for airline tickets in incognito mode? Those are total myths. Most travel experts nowadays agree that there's no "best" day, time, or hack to get amazing fares. "Airlines use advanced computer and pricing algorithms to determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, and much more," writes travel blogger Nomadic Matt.
And, to no one's surprise, those algorithms are way too smart to let amazing deals slip through the cracks on arbitrary days of the week. The only way to score the best fare possible is to stay alert and do the work.
The Hopper app can tell you exactly what a great deal looks like.
If you've never flown a particular route before, it can be difficult to know what a good fare looks like. For example, a $350 flight might seem like a steal—until you learn that that flight typically costs $300. That's why you'll want to download Hopper. To use the app, simply plug in where you'd like to fly and when. Hopper will tell you what the average fare is for that route at that time and will use historical data to tell you when you should book your flight to get the best deal.
Price alerts can help you stay on top of amazing deals.
As we mentioned earlier, the only "hack" there is to get the best airfare possible is to stay diligent. But sometimes, you just don't have time for that—which is why you should let the internet do the work for you. Sign up for price alerts on a site like Skyscanner or Google Flights to get a notification whenever fares drop on your itinerary. And if they do, book ASAP! Amazing deals never last long.
You'll find the cheapest fares if you're willing to fly on a holiday.
Flying on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas—times when other passengers would rather be at home with family instead of at the airport with the TSA—is perhaps the best way to score incredible travel deals. In fact, according to data compiled by Cheap Air, travelers who flew on Christmas day and New Year's Eve scored the deepest discounts on holiday travel in 2019.
It should also be noted that these savings don't apply to minor holidays, like President's Day and Memorial Day. Those three-day weekends tend to be even more costly since everyone else wants to get away as well.
Traveling during the off-season can mean super-savings.
Think about which type of destination you'd most like to visit when—say, a coastal town in summer and Europe in spring—and then do the opposite. Check Hopper for its price-trend calendars and the results will speak for themselves. Pro tip: If you didn't know that booking a trip to Europe in the fall or winter could save you hundreds of dollars, you do now. For example, flights from New York City to Barcelona are tracking at around $500 in August, while this travel reporter just found an itinerary in September for a bargain-bin price of $224 round-trip. In short: Don't fear the off-season.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly.
Unfortunately, the cheapest days to fly aren't always the most convenient. But if you can swing a mid-week departure, you might want to consider it. Hopper data found that the cheapest day to depart on a domestic flight is Wednesday and the cheapest day to return is Tuesday. The potential savings on those days are around $45 per ticket.
Booking a layover can mean 50-percent savings.
We understand: Layovers can be a total drag. But booking a route with a layover is likely to be much cheaper than the nonstop alternative—sometimes as much as 50 percent, writes FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney. For example, that previously mentioned $224 Barcelona flight has a layover in Madrid. If you wanted to fly direct, you'd be shelling out around $1,000. That's $776 in savings!
Hotel/airfare packages allow both vendors to slash their prices.
If you're booking a flight, it's likely that you'll also need to book a hotel—and those two rates combined can seriously add up. Lucky for you, many large hotel chains offer package deals with major airlines—and that means you can save big on both expenditures.
"If the hotel doesn't have to show their price and the airlines don't have to show their price, both are willing to give lower prices not available otherwise," said Time MacDonald, former Expedia general manager, to the New York Times. Look for these bundle deals on travel sites like Expedia, Kayak, and Hotwire.
Yes, airline credit cards can save you big.
Though their annual fees may set you back a bit, investing in an airline credit card will ensure that those travelers with especially bad wanderlust will rack up the points to eventually travel at incredibly discounted prices. According to The Points Guy, the JetBlue Plus Card is the best option for mostly domestic travelers, as it offers a generous amount of airfare points (40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days) for each dollar that you spend.
For international travelers, the website suggests investing in the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, where travelers can earn 40,000 miles and 10,000 Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles after they spend $3,000 in the first three months.
And so can credit cards that offer travel points.
If you don't want to purchase an airline's credit card, look into other cards that offer generous travel points. According to Nerd Wallet, the best bang for your buck in this regard is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers two points per dollar spent on airfare, car transportation, food, and a variety of other expenses. In the long run, these cards are the best accessory for people who travel often.
You should jump on a good deal when you spot one.
As long as you're booking your ticket at least seven days before your departure, U.S. airlines are required to give you a 24-hour period where you can cancel for free. So when you see a great deal, go for it. You can always change your mind the next day.
Tiny airports can offer enormous savings.
Especially when you're traveling to major cities, be sure to check that you can't find a cheaper rate by flying into or out of a minor airport. For example, travelers in New York might not know about Stewart International Airport, but the tiny hub, located about an hour from Times Square, currently offers some of the best fares to Europe. That means if you want to travel to the United Kingdom this year, you'll spend approximately $300 less if you depart from Stewart compared to if you depart from JFK, according to Travel + Leisure. But it's not just flights from New York—there are similar savings to be had at minor airports across the country.
Travel agents aren't irrelevant.
Though it might seem like an old-fashioned idea, a travel agent's job is to find you the best deal on your travels, so it makes sense that they would be one of your most valuable assets as you try to score the cheapest flight possible. In fact, according to Smarter Travel, travel agents have secret tricks up their sleeves that online travel agencies have never heard of—so yes, get yourself to travel agent immediately to truly save on all of your future adventures.
Southwest offers free re-bookings and price-drop refunds.
Say what you want about the chaotic boarding process at Southwest Airlines, but their free re-bookings and price-drop refund policies are unmatched. Southwest is the only major airline in the U.S. to allow you to modify your itinerary for free (other airlines charge around $200 for the same service). So if you're not 100 percent confident in your booking, you should definitely fly Southwest.
But you can also use the free rebooking feature to rebook your flight at a lower price should the fare drop at any time between your original booking and the day that you fly. All you've got to do is spot the difference and rebook the flight, and you'll be awarded a Southwest voucher to be used on your next flight, writes The Points Guy. And if you're looking for more budget travel info, check out the 17 Magical Destinations Where the U.S. Dollar Goes Further in 2020.