You already know that traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday will save you money on air travel. No doubt you know that-connecting flights are often cheaper than non-stops. And you know that airlines raise fares for travel during peak holiday periods and for last-minute travel. And that when shopping you should check fares from all airports that are a short drive from your nearest airport. But Airfarewatchdog.com (www.airfarewatchdog.com) has gathered some additional advice that might save you money next time you're shopping for a plane ride.
1. Check fares often
Because airfares fluctuate like the stock market, you need to check them every day -- or better still several times a day -- if you're serious about saving money. Airlines can update domestic fares three times a day during the week, and once on Saturday and Sunday (international fares tend not to change as often, but can be updated up to 5 times daily). Also, even if the fare itself hasn't changed, seat availability at the lowest fares can change, so there might be just one seat available at 10am, but the airline will open up more cheap seats later in the day.
2. Try a flexible fare search
If you're at all flexible, you can sometimes save hundreds by adjusting your travel dates. Travelocity will search most domestic fares and many international ones over a 330-day search period; Orbitz and Hotwire cover nearly all routes from the U.S., but only over 30-day periods. Southwest.com also has a good flexible date search function. See the article "All about flexible travel date airfare searches " for the low down on flexible date searches with some handy step-by-step instructions.
3. Sign up for the airlines' email feeds and frequent flyer programs
Yes, we know, you already get too much email, but the airlines want to develop a one-on-one relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals, such as 50% off promo codes or two-fers, if you sign up. Airline sites sell much more than airfares these days (hotels, rental cars, credit cards, and such), and they will entice you to deal directly with them rather than use a third-party site such as Orbitz. Here are links to U.S. domestic airline sign-up pages and here's one for international sign ups. If you're on Twitter, you might also want to follow the airlines' tweets (Airfarewatchdog lists them here), which they're using to promote exclusive Twitter-only deals.
4. Sign up for fare free alerts
Many airfare websites offer these, and they all have something to offer. Yapta.com (www.yapta.com) lets you track your specific itinerary, down to the flight number and dates of travel, and will let you know if the airline owes you a price-drop refund. Travelocity's easy-to-use FareWatcherPlus lets you track up to ten routes and you can choose to be notified either when a fare goes down by $25 or more, or when it goes below a price you choose. Orbitz and Kayak also offer alerts, as does Bing Travel (www.bing.com/travel/). But since all of these sites use the same airfare data provided by the airlines' computer systems, they won't include discounted promo code fares, and most don't include Southwest Airlines. (Airfarewatchdog.com does provide promo code and Southwest alerts, although it covers far fewer routes than the above-mentioned sites).
5. Search airline sites individually
Some airlines have "private" sales, reserving their very best fares for their own sites. These are different from promo code fares. Airfarewatchdog fare searchers often find lower fares on www.jetblue.com, even without discounts such as a recent system-wide 20% off promo code, than on third-party sites. International airlines such as Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Qantas regularly offer lower fares (i.e., $100-$400 less) on their own websites compared to what you'll find on Kayak or Orbitz.
6. Sign up for Ding Fares
Southwest offers daily "Ding" deals (www.southwest.com/ding) that pop up on your computer that can save a few bucks off their already low fares. A couple of years ago, American launched something similar (www.aa.com/dealfinder) which used to generate frequent promo code discounts, but we haven't seen many good deals from them lately.
7. Buy hotel + air packages
It's often significantly cheaper to buy an air plus hotel package rather than airfare alone. We often see Travelocity "TotalTrip" offerings, especially on last minute flights, pop up with hotel plus air for half the price of air alone. Lastminute.com is also a great source for finding last minute packages.
8. Use Priceline for last-minute trips
If you don't have a 7, 14, or 21 day advance purchase window to buy your fare, your best bet is the "name your own price" feature of Priceline.com. True, you won't know the exact flight times or airline you're flying until to pay for your trip, but you can save 50% or more.
9. Combine two separate fares rather than buying one fare
If you're flying to a destination in Europe, you might save money by purchasing one fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, and another from Dublin onward. Same holds true for some destinations in Asia (fly into Singapore and catch a low-cost carrier from there) and to some smaller Caribbean destinations via San Juan or the Bahamas.
10. Buy tickets on an airline that will refund the difference if a fare goes down
Let's say you've found the lowest fare, and then the day after purchase your non-refundable fare for the same itinerary goes down. If you ask for it you can get a refund for the difference. But some airlines will charge you a costly "administrative" fee of $150 or more, wiping out any savings. Others will give you the entire fare difference without extracting a fee. Currently, the "nice" airlines are JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska.
11. Don't listen to airfare pundits who predict airfares
Look, we all want our pictures in the paper and on the TV. But airlines are unpredictable creatures, and any airfare expert who claims he knows that airfares will be lower or higher in the coming months is just trying to snag some publicity. No one can accurately predict where airfares are heading, any more than we can predict the stock market, because we have no idea when the economy will improve, or how much airlines will cut back capacity, or when the next flu epidemic will hit. If we could, we'd all be comfortably retired in Margaritaville by now.
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.
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