Before you even start looking at air fares, think about the timing of your trip. Are you going at a peak travel time? Try at all costs to avoid traveling during these times:
- August in Europe
- Thanksgiving in the US
- Lunar New Year in Asia
- Spring Break in Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico
Do you have some flexibility in your travel times? Does your school system have a long weekend or break at a non-traditional time? Plan your visit to a popular destination then. Our school district has a two teacher work days at the end of a weekend in early November, which is a perfect time to get to Disneyworld, if you’re into that kind of thing.
… and start with a search.
Start by getting an idea of what an average air fare is to your destination. Looking for flights to Barcelona? Check Hipmunk or Kayak or CheapFlights to get an idea of the range of prices. Then search for different dates to see if the fares change drastically. The flight I booked to Brussels in February cost half of what it would cost if I were going in August.
If it seems really cheap, and if it’s fully refundable, BOOK IT. Just do it. If you don’t, you’ll get yourself all excited about this great trip you’re going to take, but when you go to find it again it will be $300 more per person, and you’ll keep looking, and it will keep going up, and you will kick yourself for not grabbing it when it was cheap.
Check the Discount Travel Sites
TravelZoo, CheapOair, and Groupon Getaways are just a few of the sites that send weekly listings of travel deals. Sign up for a few to see if something strikes your fancy. Last year I saw an incredible fare to Honolulu on one of these, and even though it hadn’t been in the plans, I bought the tickets because I knew they would never be any cheaper, the fare worked for a school holiday, and it was 8 months out so I knew we’d have plenty of time to plan a great trip. And it was one of our most favorite (and cheapest!) vacations ever!
Sign up for Air Fare Alerts
If you’ve settled on a place to go, you can sign up for air fare alerts when lower-than-normal fares come along for a certain route. Airfarewatchdog and Yapta are a few examples. For most, you’ll have to set a price below which you’d like to be alerted.
Use Regional Airlines
In the US, we have JetBlue and Airtran and Southwest to get us from one side of the country to another at a lower cost than the major airlines. In Europe, Ryanair and easyJet are the best known, but you can try using Skyscanner to search several of the low-cost airlines. Asia has had a boom in the discount airline industry, with Air Asia, Jetstar, Tiger Airways leading the pack. Find a flight to one of the hubs of a discount airline and save money by flying that airline to your final destination.
And just go!
There’s no perfect time to buy an airplane ticket, but earlier is almost always better. And Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days of the week to buy, according to industry insiders. That’s because many airlines announce sales on Tuesdays, and by Wednesday the other airlines on the same route try to match the sale fare.
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