Want to take a family vacation this holiday season? Is the high cost of airfare keeping you from booking? You’re not alone. The winter holidays is one of the busiest and most expensive times of year to travel. Thankfully, there are some simple tricks when searching for a flight that can shave hundreds of dollars off your fare.
How Airfare is Priced
Like most commodities, the price of plane tickets is affected by many market conditions. Weather patterns and the price of fossil fuels tend to be volatile and affect ticket pricing. Even Fox Business reports that the price of airfare fluctuates during the course of a single day.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, that the only thing that anyone can predict is the amount of people that will show up. In fact, most flights are overbooked on purpose because a small percentage of passengers usually don’t make their flights.
The Best Time To Buy
Despite fluctuations, it is still better to book in advance – but not too far in advance. The ‘magic window’ for buying the most economically priced airfare is represented by three factors.
1) Although you may get a different answer depending on which expert you ask, the general consensus seems to be that the best time to book is four to eight weeks early.
2) Airlines release their deals on Tuesday afternoons, around 3pm EST making the 24-hour period between 3pm Tuesday and 3pm Wednesday is usually the best time to find cheap airfare.
3) The time that you depart also plays a part. Flights tend to be less crowded (and expensive) on Tuesday or Wednesdays than they are on Friday or Saturdays. Early morning and overnight flight tend to be less costly, as well.
This makes the best time for purchasing low price plane tickets somewhere within one to two months in advance late on a Tuesday or early on a Wednesday.
Shop Around and Stay Flexible
If you are flexible about the departure date or time, you can often find a better deal by using an Online Travel Agent (OTA) website like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hipmunk, or Kayak. They all allow you to compare times before and after your preferred travel dates. Be sure to compare multiple sites, as there is no single place that always has the cheapest fare.
After you find the lowest price through a booking agent, go directly to the airline’s website as well and check to see if the same itinerary is less expensive there. As the Huffington Post relates, airlines can charge less when you buy directly from them because they don’t have to pay any agency fees. Furthermore, many of the most economical providers, such as Southwest Airlines, do not participate in OTA searches. You have to go to them to check the price of the ticket if you are interested in finding the best deal.
Check for Additional Discounts
It never hurts to check for a coupon before you lock down your plane ticket. For example, if after all of your careful research, you discover that Expedia is offering the lowest price flights for your trip, you should do a search for coupons at Expedia to find an even better deal. Most travel coupons are very specific, so be sure to pay attention to any special details and restrictions.
You can also check the company’s social media feeds and sign-up to receive their newsletter to have deals sent directly to you. You can also sign up for low airfare watchdog alerts, so that you will get an email every time prices drop in your area.
Stay Up-to-date on Airfare
Keep in mind that the Department of Transportation gives everyone 24 hours to cancel a booking without incurring a penalty after they purchase a plane ticket. If the cost drops significantly within 24 hours it may be worthwhile to cancel and book another ticket. However, this only works if your plane leaves a week or more in advance.
Some websites even offer price matching guarantees. For example Orbitz has a Price Assurance policy that tracks customer purchases. If another customer books the same hotel or flight at a lower cost, you are refunded 110% of the difference in Orbucks. Good for one year, Orbucks can be used as monetary credit for travel bookings on Orbitz.
Ready to book a flight? Be sure to do your research, shop around, look for deals, and stay flexible. Save your cash for when you arrive!