Above image courtesy of Marcin Wichary
Remember the good ole days when airlines offered free drinks, and all you can eat peanuts? When customers were actually treated like customers? Now in the oligopoly of airlines we are at the behest of what they decide to do. Prices between the legacy carries vary, at most, in the single digits and rarely resemble anything close to competition. To add insult to injury, the airlines are on a quest to nickel and dime us to death, while no frills airlines offer bare bone flights that border hostile (remember when Ryanair proposed to get rid of seats, and install pay toilets? Yep, like that).
The perfect formula to find cheap airfare tickets is the holy grail of traveling. From the day and hour of purchase to the date of travel to where you depart all plays a part in scoring those cheap fares. Theories also abound with everyone perpetuating their own strategies from the abstract to the more actionable. But in the battle to find cheap airfare tickets any trick is a good trick.
Find Cheap Airfare Tickets
Avoid The Frills:
Be cheap and beat the airlines at their own game of nickel and diming. Don’t fall for the money traps: avoid checking in bags by traveling light, bring only personal items in cabin if the carrier charges for carryon and don’t buy the headphones! Also, take whatever seat they give you, and avoid early bird check-ins,
Being flexible is your secret weapon to find cheap airfare tickets. Airlines depend on business and leisure travelers that absolutely must leave on specific days, hence increased fares on days like Fridays and Sundays. If you’re not bound by a particular schedule, money savings are literally a day away.
- Fly into alternative or regional airports – For instance, if San Francisco is your destination, try flying into Oakland airport. However, this is only sometimes true, as larger airports can have cheaper fares as well. Hence the need to be flexible.
- Fly into an adjacent country and travel overland, or even take a cheaper flight – For international flights, try flying to adjacent countries and then traveling by bus or train or a short haul flight. Sometimes you can save hundreds even after factoring in the additional transport. For Domestic U.S flights, this can work as well considering how inexpensive it is to rent an economy car or take the greyhound.
- Be open with your dates and time: If flying on Friday at 3pm is non-negotiable, then so is the price. Keep your day and hour of travel open, and you’ll have more fare options to choose from. It’s no secret that some days are just cheaper than others and that red-eye and early morning flights are typically cheaper.
- Don’t be scared of connecting flights: Layovers not only can save you significant amounts of money, but can also be a nice little side adventure in the event it’s an extended layover. Otherwise, if you need to stay in the airport lounge, painful, agonizing layovers are a thing of the past. With free Wi-Fi and creative activities to suck up the hours, layovers can put some dollars in your pocket. In some cases you can even use Multi City ticketing which can save you money: watch this video:
Best Day And Time to Fly:
The general rule is to fly when no one wants to fly (well, most people anyays). . Most business travelers fly the beginning and the end of the week, and leisure travelers don’t like giving up their Saturdays. This works for both domestic and international flights. Do your best to schedule your dates for mid-week whenever possible. As well, travel on the actual holidays, such as Christmas day.
- Fly midweek – cheapest days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
- Fly on or after the holidays – flying on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas day is usually loads cheaper than anytime before that.
- Fly odd hours – Early morning, dinner hours, and red-eye flights are usually cheaper than flights at any other time.
When You Book Determines What You Pay:
This is different from the actual date of departure, and refers specifically to when you click the “purchase” button. Of the many strategies you can employ to find cheap airfare tickets, this is probably the most abstract and most complex. So take the following with a grain of salt, and exercise your own tests:
- Tuesday is the best day, but maybe weekends too: The general consensus amongst most bargain hunters is that Tuesday afternoon is the best time to purchase your airfare. The idea is that airlines begin promoting sales Monday evening and by Tuesday afternoon all other airlines reduce their prices to stay competitive. Farecompare’s extensive data supports this for domestic US flights. They even go so far as to suggest Tuesday at 3pm eastern. However, according to some number crunchers over at Texas A&M University, it was discovered that purchasing on Saturday and Sunday’s could save about 5% on airfare. In my own tests, this has never actually wrung true, but it’s worth a shot. Best approach here, is to wait for the weekend to see if the price changes from Wednesday, if not, buy on Tuesday (but keep in mind how far you are from the travel date, as the closer you get to your departure date, the more expensive it will become)
- Purchase Early, but not too early: The suggestions here are pretty consistent across the board. For domestic U.S flights it’s suggested to purchase airline tickets no earlier than 3 months and no later than 30 days. International fares have a larger window with the earliest you should start looking being about 5 months. Airlines apparently do not actively “manage” sales and flights until the times above. Ignore advice that offer up precise days like 45 or 54 days. It’s not possible to pinpoint the exact date for future purchases
- Don’t buy too late: Avoid purchasing last minute at all costs. The closer you buy to the departure date, the more expensive the airfare will be. Specifically, within 14 days price airfare rises dramatically; within 7, the hike in price is even crazier.
Technology is your friend to find cheap airfare tickets. And as technology improves and becomes more robust, finding deals is only going to become easier. Fortunately for us, creating apps and programs to find low cost airfare is big business, and deal aggregate and bargain hunting sites have become our biggest champions. Use them to their fullest potential for the pure and simple reason that they work.
- Sign up for Airfare alerts: Sites like Airfarewatchdog and FareCompare will do the heavy lifting and send you deals straight to your email. Sometimes you’ll get them before they even begin to populate on other sites.
- Consider Hidden city Ticketing – The idea is to buy a ticket going from point A to point C, but get off at point B. Because distanced traveled doesn’t determine costs, sometimes it ends up cheaper to have your desired destination as a layover rather than your final destination. Read my article on how I used Skiplagged to find cheap flights.
- Use a few flight search engines: Don’t use just one. Use a few of them to compare prices and options. For instance, Skyscanner provides results for all airlines, all airports, cities AND countries providing you greater flexibility. Other resources to use: Kayak, Momondo, Vayama and Google Flights
- Buy one passenger at a time: On a single flight there can be different pricing structures for each seat. By purchasing multiple tickets at the same time, the airline’s reservation system automatically charges the highest price for each ticket even if there are cheaper seats available.
- Be Anonymous: This is probably the most common strategy. Clear your cookies and cache in the event the airline’s website is tracking your behavior. You can also enable private browsing in your browser. In my experience this doesn’t always work, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt.
At the end of the day, figure out if doing all the above is worth it to find cheap airfare tickets. Finding the cheapest and lowest fares requires a confluence of factors and you can never rely on just one. If you put them all together you’ll be an unstoppable force of nature! Personally, I love the feeling of getting a good deal, in fact, it’s probably safe to say that I’m allergic to paying full price for anything. But for some travelers, paying a bit more for the convenience of a direct flight is worth it, whereas for others, layovers are just another opportunity to get some shuteye. Whatever you decide to do, or what strategies you decide to use, if you find that perfect flight…pull the damn trigger!
The above is nowhere near definitive so if I’m missing anything, please share! Lets make this the ultimate list of cheap airfare strategy!
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