Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to save money on airfare?

First, the bad news. After more than a year of falling ticket prices, the cost of flying is now rising. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average domestic airfare jumped 4.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

Now the good news. You can do something about it.

First, understand that the rules around when and where to buy tickets are constantly in flux—airfare offers change up to three times each day during the week. Airlines aren't just changing the fares but also the number of seats that are available at the lowest fare. There might be one seat today at the lowest price and a dozen tomorrow morning. Or vice versa. You need to search hard, find the fare, and lock it down immediately.

In other words, timing is everything when it comes to saving money on airfare. That's true for when you buy, but also for when you decide to travel. To find the lowest fare, flexibility is key. If you have wiggle room built into your schedule, you can sometimes save hundreds by adjusting your travel dates, often by just one or two days. (And those who are very flexible might try an auction site like Hotwire or  Tripmama.)

Unfortunately, this tactic doesn't work very well during the busy holiday season when seats are at a premium. In fact, it's difficult to find any low prices when the holiday season approaches. Airlines traditionally raise their fares for travel during peak holiday periods and for last-minute travel, and they start planning early. Don't expect to use your miles to save money, either. During the holiday season, there's little—if any—chance of getting a seat using a “restricted mile award.” You'll have to dig deep into your account for one of those “anytime mileage awards.”

Our most important tip? Take charge and shop around. Don't assume that all online travel agencies have the same fares, or that the airline's own website has the highest fares. And don't overlook air/hotel packages; the total package price, including the hotel, can be less than the airfare alone. 

Think About Timing

For less competitive routes, try to buy tickets at least 21 days in advance to get the best price. For high-traffic routes, consult  some agents like Bookingbuddy.com or Cheapoair.com, which will advise whether you should snap up that ticket or wait.

Consider One-Way Tickets

If your plans don't permit a Saturday stay over, try buying two one-way tickets from a low-cost carrier like Southwest or JetBlue, which don't require round-trip purchases to access the lowest prices.

Shop Around

Sometimes the lowest fares are on an airline's own website; sometimes they're available through search engines, such as Orbits or One travel, which locate fares from a combination of carriers.

Check for Alternate Airports

In some areas, a discount airline may not have any routes to the major airport, so look for a smaller one in the area (for example, San Jose instead of San Francisco, or Providence, RI, instead of Boston).

Be a Subscriber

Sign up to receive emails from airlines that fly your preferred routes and get access to special deals. Hotware.com scans airline data and sends you alerts for your favorite cities, while Farebuzz .com has a team of experts hunting for good deals.

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