The following is a guest post from Kat Tretina and Money Under 30
The price of a particular plane ticket will vary wildly depending on the day of the week, the month of the year, and the length of time between purchase and takeoff. Learn why when you buy your plane tickets affects how much it will cost you.
If the spring weather has you dreaming of a beach vacation or a quiet retreat to the mountains, you are probably wondering how on earth you can afford a trip on your already tight budget.
Plane tickets can be a major expense, often costing more than your hotel accommodations and excursions combined. While airline fares can cost you hundreds, you can find great deals and the best rates if you plan ahead.
Follow these tips to get the lowest prices possible on your next trip:
When to Fly
Fly on off days: In general, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays tend to be the least popular days to fly, so tickets are often less expensive. Fridays and Sundays are the most desirable days, so they will be pricier.
Be flexible: Get the lowest rates by opting for flights other people don’t want. Six a.m. departures, overnight flights, or trips with a layover can get you significant savings.
Stretch your reach: Instead of flying out of the smaller airport near your home, try looking for flights at a central hub that may be further away. Major international airports often have more options and more competitive rates. If you have multiple major airports within a two hours’ drive from you, check out fares from each location. Flights can be hundreds less just one city over.
Don’t be spontaneous: Last minute trips are exciting, but you’ll pay a premium for your spontaneity. If you book a flight less than two weeks in advance, airlines assume you’re a business traveler with a company footing the bill and charge higher rates.
Avoid holidays: Flights around the holidays tend to be the most expensive; the average domestic airfare around Thanksgiving is a staggering $408 while Christmas flights average $485. If you’re planning to travel, try to leave a few days ahead of time to cut your fares down.
When to Buy
Be alert: Set up airline fare alerts with apps like FareCompare—you’ll get text or email notifications letting you know when prices drop or a sale is announced, giving you the opportunity to snag limited deals.
Use tools wisely: AirFareWatchDog provides advice on how to get the lowest rate at your chosen destination, from telling you what airlines have sales to that particular location as well as which carriers charge baggage fees. Kayak’s Hacker tool helps locate one-way flights for every part of your journey that are cheaper than booking a round-trip flight yourself.
Time it right: According to FareCompare, the best time to book your tickets is on Tuesdays, ideally early in the morning. Many airlines launch sales late Monday night, so new fares will be available and other carriers drop their rates to match the competition.
Book early (but not too early): You might think booking in advance will get you the best prices. But that’s not always the case. Prices can fluctuate over time, so a fare bought months in advance might be more expensive than if you waited until closer to your departure date. Last year, a study was done that analyzed over 4 million trips to record the lowest airfares and when the tickets were purchased; they found that booking a flight 47 days in advance was the ideal time to get the lowest rates.
Check your flight: Before buying your tickets, check out how full the flight is. If you’re flying out at an unusual time and there are plenty of seats open, prices may drop to attract more customers.
Shop one at a time: While it will take more time, purchase tickets one at a time, rather than buying your party all at once. If there is a $100 ticket and a $200 ticket and you buy them together, you often will get charged $400 for the pair due to quirks in the system. Buying them separately lets you snag that $100 fare.
Where to Shop
Look around: No matter how loyal you may be, shop around and compare rates. No single airline has the best prices all the time. Spirit might be the cheapest on the way to your destination and Southwest on the way back. Research multiple airlines for every leg of your trip to save money.
Check around: Besides looking up rates with the airline directly, also view sites like Kayak or Priceline. They sometimes can find deals you wouldn’t otherwise find on your own. Airlines are always competing for customers, so you do have some power and options when choosing how and when to travel. Prepare in advance and do some comparison shopping and you’ll get the best rates (and may even be able to extend your vacation!).