If you’re preparing to book a flight for an upcoming vacation, chances are you already know that the price of flying has skyrocketed in just the last year. As the costs of fuel, labor, and goods have accelerated, the cost of an airline ticket is no different.
According to the LA Times, “Fares for flights from June through August are 47% higher than in 2021 and 34% higher than in the same period in 2019.”
That’s the bad news, obviously. The good news is that the savvy traveler can still find plenty of ways to save on flights. You just have to be diligent, flexible, and frugal.
If the price spike on flights is putting a bit of a kink into your summer travel plans, we do have a few tips for how you can find the very best flights for your budget.
Before you book your flight, make sure you make all necessary preparations for traveling in this new era. Find out how to prepare with a look at Ten Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Travel.
Otherwise, read on and find out how to book the cheapest possible flight for your next trip…
1. Understand That There Is No Cheapest Day to Book
If you’re perusing the internet in search of advice on how to get cheaper airline tickets—and we assume you are because you’ve arrived at our article—you have almost certainly stumbled on the common refrain that the best ticket prices usually post on Tuesdays. Indeed, we came across this very advice countless times in our own research. To wit, Insider notes that “The debate on the best day to book is tricky and can yield different results, but Tuesday has often been the prime day for booking a flight.”
But is it really? Probably not, says the Thrifty Traveler. In truth, ticket prices are constantly fluctuating, not just by the day, but by the minute. According to the Thrifty Traveler, the “old myth about finding cheap flights on a Tuesday is outdated. You can find great discount flights any day of the week. And big travel days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Tuesday are more about marketing than real savings. While it’s convenient to think you’ll nab a cheap flight by searching on a special day, it’s just not the case. Flight prices are constantly changing.”
In other words, rather than focusing your energy on that crack-of-dawn Tuesday flight sale that doesn’t actually exist, focus your energy on constant screen refreshes for several days in a rwo.
2. Check Often, and Early
To the point, the best way to score a great deal on a flight is to check rates with frequency over a period of several days. Deals come and go in a flash. If it appears that better deals are available in your area when you search in the middle of the night, it may only be because you’ve managed to seize a newly posted deal at a low traffic hour. Such is to say that the more vigilant you are, the better your chances are of scoring a sweet deal on an affordable flight.
But in order to do this, give yourself plenty of time. If possible, begin this process well in advance of your intended travel date. This gives you both the best chance of scoring a lower rate and of having sufficient time to do your market research before general fares spike. As Forbes notes, “Usually, plane tickets jump in price during the final three weeks before departure. Booking as soon as possible is one of the easiest ways to ensure you will get the lowest price. You should be able to secure the best rates if you book within three months to 30 days from departure.”
3. Understand That There Is a Right Day to Fly
Ok. So technically, there’s no right day to book a flight. But there is definitely a right day to fly. Flights are typically priced according to supply and demand. That means it will be cheaper to fly on days when there is less demand.
Booking your flight on a Tuesday might not cost you less than booking on a Friday, but flying on a Tuesday will definitely cost you less. According to Thrifty Nomads, “Most of the time it is cheaper to leave on a weekday, though this isn’t always the case. Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route.”
Chances are that you’ll ultimately end up flying at an odd time, and on an odd day. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ll have a great chance of getting a cheap flight.
4. Follow the “Flight First” Rule
According to The Thrifty Traveler, the Flight First rule suggests that your top priority should be the cost of your flight. Indeed, price should come above travel dates, amenities, and even your ultimate destination.
To the point, it’s all about flexibility. The more wiggle room you have in your vacation plans, the easier it will be to grab a cheap flight. If you’re looking for the cheapest possible flight fares, your biggest advantage will be your willingness to adapt. Be open minded about when you travel, and even where you travel. This attitude will serve you well when looking for more affordable flights. Thrifty Traveler says “Setting your travel dates in advance before booking flights is the single costliest travel-planning mistake you can make – it can easily cost you hundreds of dollars. It’s time to break the habit.”
Follow the Flight First rule. If you’re willing to fly when the best flights are available, and you’re willing to choose a desirable destination based on its affordability, there will be little standing in your way of the very best deal.
5. Do Your Due Diligence
That said, you usually don’t want to rush to book based on the first tempting deal you see. Make sure you take the time to explore all of your options first. Aggressive comparison shopping is the most important action you can take to land affordable flights. You’ll want to do a full scan of the travel landscape, from the biggest online travel agency sites to the most affordable discount air carriers.
According to Spend Life Traveling, “Many of the budget airlines aren’t on large comparison sites for flights such as Kayak, Expedia, or Orbitz. Do check them for comparison though but I almost always end up choosing my flights through Skyscanner.com . Skyscanner offers the broadest range of airlines and some nice tools for finding the best deals if you are flexible (either with your location or dates).”
Use all the online tools at your disposal. It won’t cost you anything to browse. Of course, once you get the lay of the land, make sure you seize on an amazing deal when you see it. Good deals can go fast!
6. Scope Out Secondary Airports
Not willing to change your destination? We get it? If you’re planning a trip to Vegas or Disney, only Vegas or Disney will do. Fortunately, there are other ways to be flexible. One way is to avoid the big international hub airport in favor of a smaller regional airport. Indeed, while most major travel destinations are noted for their more popular airports, Spend Life Traveling notes that “Most major cities have a smaller, secondary airport. This is the airport most budget airlines fly into because it helps keep their costs down since smaller airports charge smaller landing fees. Check out which airlines fly into these smaller airports to save some money. For example, you can take JetBlue to Long Beach, an airport close to Los Angeles, instead of flying into LAX. Or in Europe, the low cost airline Ryanair flies into Eindhoven, the Netherlands, instead of Amsterdam airport.”
Explore your options and make sure you have a plan for transport from the airport to your lodging destination. Provided this transport doesn’t inflate the cost of your travel, you may be able to save money on your flight.
7. Get Comfortable with No-Frills Flying
Wherever you plan to land, make sure you explore all of your flight options, and we mean all of them. Don’t be afraid to explore budget airlines, especially for shorter flights. Spirit, Frontier, and JetBlue are among the leading names in the U.S. discount flying sector.
Thrifty Nomads advises “Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts. It should be obvious, but this comes with compromises such as less leg room and no “free” food/drink on-board (which by the way, is normally covered in your higher-priced ticket with full-service airlines).”
Indeed, we won’t lie to you and tell you that this will be a luxurious experience. It may not even be a pleasant experience. But it will likely be an affordable experience. If you’re cool with the idea of simply getting from Point A to Point B without pleasantries like creature comfort or customer service, you can save a bundle.
8. Be a Willing Connector
As long as you’re willing to make a few sacrifices in the name of affordability, you may be a good candidate for a connecting flight option. This could be an affordable way to get from Point A to Point B as long as you’re ok making a few quick stops at Points C, D and possibly E along the way. While few of us would actively volunteer to take significantly longer to arrive at our ultimate destination, this is a pretty reliable way to pay less for your flight.
According to Forbes, “If you aren’t in a hurry to get to your final destination, booking a connecting flight can be cheaper than a non-stop flight. The search engines will let you filter flight itineraries by non-stop, 1 stop, and 2+ stops. Even flying mixed carriers might be able to save you some cash as well.” It’s hardly the most convenient option, but it will almost always be a more cost-effective flight than the direct route.
9. Consult Your Credit Card Issuer About Travel Perks
You may already be eligible for a few travel-related rewards through an existing credit card account. Insider notes that “Credit-card perks range from miles to waivers on foreign transactions. Plus, they can also work as a form of insurance to get refunded if you need to cancel flights for severe weather or injury.”
Other rewards include cash back for booking a flight with your credit card or points that can be converted into direct payments on your credit card balance. Contact your credit card issuer to find out if there are any ways to save on flights by using your card or any rewards programs that could be activated on your existing account.
10. Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card
If you don’t already enjoy access to travel rewards through an existing account, now might be a good time to open a new travel credit card. Some of the most generous rewards usually come as part of your welcome package. Moreover, MoneyGeek advises that “One of the easiest ways to earn miles for your next trip is with a travel rewards credit card. While there are plenty of cards available, the best travel rewards credit cards are the ones that align with your specific needs and spending habits.”
If you’re in the market for a travel card, start by looking for an offer that rewards the type of shopping you already do on a regular basis. If you are frequently on the road for work, look for an offer that provides cash back every time you pay at the pump. If you shop predominantly online, find a credit card offer that awards you points for your ecommerce purchases. Look for an offer that is naturally compatible with your everyday spending habits to get the most of your travel rewards card.
If you’re ready to explore credit card offers but you’re not sure where to look, get started with our list of The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards.