Let’s face it: Airplane flights can be expensive. Whether you’re just trying to visit relatives, or trying to get away from them, the process of booking a plane flight can be also stressful. With ticket prices rising and falling faster than the stock market, it’s tough to walk away feeling like you’re getting the best deal. So the next time you need to purchase a flight (and want to save some serious dough), consult these tips to help you save money on flights.
Use Airline Consolidators
These airline ticket resellers work with major travel companies to sell tickets at reduced prices. Think of it this way: Consolidators are wholesalers (much like Costco) who buy in bulk. Due to existing relationships, travel agents can purchase tickets from consolidators and then sell them to consumers. It’s a win/win: Consolidators offload their tickets without dealing directly with clients, and travel agents gain access to rock-bottom fares.
But there’s a catch. Just because a travel agent could pass on these discounts to clients doesn’t mean that they will. When my husband was a travel agent, he couldn’t believe some of the markups on fares by the time they reached an actual traveler—in many cases, it was over $200!
Fortunately, you can bypass the travel agent and book directly with a consolidator to get the reduced rate. Just be aware that the best rates are usually found for international travel, as well as U.S. domestic business and first-class flights.
Here are some of our favorite consolidators:
Book in Advance
When it comes to finding inexpensive flights, the general rule is the more available seats, the cheaper the airline ticket. So booking well in advance is usually your best bet—it’s a good idea to make your arrangements a minimum of 21 weeks prior to your departure date. After that, airlines increase fares incrementally up until the departure date. So the closer your departure date, the higher the price.
However, if your 21 weeks have come and gone, some airlines (full list here) do offer discounts at 14 days, seven days and even three days before the departure date. These discounts are “last-minute” rates that can be an excellent bargain, but also keep in mind that it’s risky to wait until just a few days before your departure to book tickets, especially if you’re flying during peak season.
Clear Your Web Browsing History
It happens all of the time. You find a cheap flight online, search for it again later that day … and the price has skyrocketed. Why? All booking sites record your web browsing data and some (e.g. Travelocity) use this information to raise prices when you’re interested in a flight. If you clear your web browsing data (known as a cache), there’s a chance that you’ll find the original price.
Be Flexible About Dates
This is the number one way to save money on flights – we’re talking hundreds of dollars. The cheapest days to fly are generally Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. And now that booking agents offer a “flexible date” search, finding the cheapest flight is easy. These companies offer such searches:
Research Airline Hubs
Every airline has a “hub”—sometimes more than one—where the majority of their flights arrive and depart. For example, British Airways uses London Heathrow Airport and JetBlue Airways uses John F. Kennedy International Airport (there’s a full list of hubs here).
What does this mean for you? Generally, flights to and from these hubs are inexpensive because there are more flights to choose from. So if your final destination isn’t a major hub, check prices to the hub first, and then look for an additional flight from the hub to your final destination. Yes, you’ll have a layover, but you could save a lot of money in the process.
Book on the Right Day
There are countless opinions on the best day to save money on flights. But a study by FareCompare.com claims that the top fare deals are found early in the week—specifically Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when airlines post discount prices. (There are some exceptions—consult our guide to buying airline tickets for more details).
A simple trick that travel agents use is to search for flights three days before and after an intended departure. This can easily slice a few hundred dollars off international flights! Just remember: If you’re checking throughout the week, clear your browsing history for accurate search results.