Finding the best flight deals is an adventure. I welcome the challenge to see how low I can get a favorable route. Here are some of my suggestions from 21 years of frequent traveling.
Where to start – When I begin my search, I start with Kayak.com. This site does not sell tickets, but pulls in information from Orbitz, Expedia, Cheaptickets, and the airline home sites. It is a great place to explore your options. It offers multiple tools to narrow your search criteria based on time, airlines, even airline alliances.
On the home page of Kayak, you enter in your route. Kayak is unique in that you can enter in multiple destinations separated by commas. This enables you to search multiple locations. Pick the major cities near you. Later you can add smaller, regional airports.
You are also able to pick flexible days from the home page. I recommend this as prices can vary greatly depending which days you travel.
Begin with this kind of search and you will be presented with a grid of options to narrow down the best day and locations. Once you settle on this, sign up for “price alerts” (upper left column of search results). This enables results to be emailed directly to your inbox daily to track sales and price fluctuations.
Don’t be afraid to track flights to multiple locations – they all come in one email.
Once you have done the initial search, picked prime dates, and regional airports; WAIT and WATCH.
During the waiting and watching time, here are some other tips to play with; looking for the best deal leading up to the moment you pull the trigger and buy the flight.
1. Search alternative airports – In major markets such as Los Angeles and New York, there are actual codes for the multiple airports (QLA, NYC). Kayak offers an option to search up to 200 miles away. This has worked for me.
On occasion, I have saved so much money on the flight, I was able to rent a car in the alternative city for less than flying into the nearest one. Then I had a flight and a car for less than a flight to a local airport.
2. Search open jaw flights – Consider flying into one airport and out of a different one. I’ve used this strategy often for success.
3. Consider one ways – Flights with true one way prices have come back in favor recently. For some reason, two one ways can be cheaper than a roundtrip.
4. Combine free tickets with paid tickets Are you flying to an obscure, expensive location? Fly into a bigger city with more price competition on the paid flight, then use a free ticket to the smaller, expensive town. I travel often to Kalispell, Montana. Flying into Seattle, Denver, or Salt Lake and linking up to a free flight can save $400 or more dollars.
5. Look for discount carriers – This does not help with airline loyalty, but can often save you a bundle if you are an infrequent traveler.
6. Avoid Priceline or auction sites for flying – The lure of the auction format can draw you to save a few bucks. Don’t do it. These are great for hotels or car rentals, but I do not recommend them for flights. You have no control over what you get nor do your earn any frequent flyer miles. Save a few bucks while you enjoy your 4:45 am departure!
7. Round trips can vary depending where you begin – If you travel often between two cities, the prices can vary depending where you begin. Round trips from Point A to B can be more than Point B to A. Fly one way to Point B, then book a round trip. This is a great strategy for business men or missionaries who travel home often. It is most effective in international markets.
8. Use rebate sites like ebates.com or mrrebate.com – These shopping sites offer cash back simply by signing in, then going to the final site of booking. I’ve made hundreds of dollars in cash back for my online purchases through the years.
Pick the right time to book – This is the gamble of airline tickets. There are no hard and fast rules. Generally prices are high well in advance, come down gradually as the airlines seeks to fill seats, then rise again at 60 and 30 days. Last minute travel does offer the chance of a great deal if flights are empty, but this is the Las Vegas style of travel deals. You may hit the jackpot occasionally but will get burned and pay twice as much on other occasions.
My advice is to book 60-90 days out.
After buying – Keep watching!
The price may drop. It is impossible to hit the perfect timing with each booking. When the price drops; be proactive. Many airlines will offer a voucher for future travel for the fare difference (more than $25). Some sites like Orbitz tout a “price guarantee” if someone buys the exact route at a fare lower than yours. I have never experienced this personally but have obtain vouchers directly from the airline.
With a little bit of checking, there is a lot of money to be saved in airline travel.
Check back all week for travel related posts such as Loyalty to an Alliance Pays and Avoiding the Middle Seat.
The opinions expressed on my own, I have received no compensation for them.