Finding cheap flight tickets can be a frustrating process. Ticket prices are constantly changing and being driven by many factors. However, there are some key tips and tricks travelers can use to increase their chances of finding a good airfare deal. Understanding the different factors that impact ticket pricing and knowing when to buy can make a big difference.
When Are Flight Tickets Typically Cheapest?
In general, flight tickets tend to be cheaper when booked 1-3 months in advance of the travel date. The prime booking window is 6-8 weeks before departure. During this period, airlines typically have lower fares available as they work to fill seats.
Booking closer in to the travel dates tends to yield higher fares, as airlines know demand is picking up and fewer seats are left. Last minute bookings 1-2 weeks out often come with a premium price.
However, cheap last minute deals can occasionally be found, especially if booking an unpopular route or if there is excess capacity due to a drop in bookings. Airlines will sometimes reduce fares at the last minute if a flight is likely to go out with empty seats.
Cheapest Time of Year to Fly
The time of year you book can also impact the fares available. In general, the cheapest times to fly domestically are:
– January to mid-March (excluding around MLK and President’s Day weekends)
– August to mid-October
– Mid-November to mid-December (excluding Thanksgiving week and the week before Christmas)
These shoulder seasons attract fewer leisure travelers. With less demand, airlines will discount fares to help fill planes.
The most expensive times for domestic air travel tend to be:
– Spring break (March and April)
– Early summer (mid-May to mid-June)
– Thanksgiving week
– Two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s
When traveling to Europe, aim to fly in the off-peak seasons like late-September to mid-December and January to March (excluding holidays). Fares tend to spike in the busy summer months.
Cheapest Days of the Week to Fly
The day of week you choose to fly out can significantly impact the fare. Based on historical pricing data, these are generally the cheapest days to fly:
|Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
|Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Weekends tend to be more expensive, especially Fridays and Sundays when many business travelers are flying. If your schedule is flexible, flying mid-week is your best bet for deals.
Factors That Impact Airfare Pricing
Many different factors go into how airlines price tickets and determine availability. Being aware of what drives pricing can help in finding cheaper fares.
If multiple airlines fly a particular route, there tends to be greater fare competition. With more options, carriers fight for customer loyalty and market share. Popular hub routes tend to have the most competitive pricing.
In contrast, consumers have less leverage on routes with just one or two operators. Watch for monopolized routes where one airline dominates.
As oil is a major input cost for airlines, changes in crude oil and jet fuel impact ticket pricing. When oil prices spike, carriers will raise base fares to offset the higher fuel expenses.
Monitoring oil prices can provide some indication of fare trajectory. If oil drops for a sustained period, discounted fares may follow.
The basic principles of supply and demand heavily factor into airfare costs. When travel demand is high like during peak seasons, fares rise accordingly. Higher demand leads to less seat availability.
When fewer people are looking to fly due to lower seasonal demand, airlines will discount pricing to incentivize bookings. Tracking travel trends can help you target low-demand booking periods.
Some destinations are simply more popular than others and come with premium pricing. Flying to beach or resort locations during peak times carries a premium.
Opting for less trendy destinations can provide big fare savings. Be open-minded on location if your dates are flexible.
Nonstop flights are almost always more expensive than routes with a connection. This is especially true when flying into or out of a major airline hub city.
Since many travelers prioritize direct flights, airlines can charge more for the convenience. However, connecting through a smaller regional airport often provides significant savings.
Plane Seat Availability
Airlines use sophisticated yield management systems to monitor booking across fare classes and manage seat inventory. Lower cost economy class seats will be restricted if more expensive seats are filled.
Act fast when cheap fares are spotted, as they may disappear quickly if a certain fare bucket sells out. Signing up for price alerts can help you jump on deals.
A glut of empty airline seats drives down prices fast. Whether due to shrinking demand, growth in budget carriers, or expanded routes, excess capacity leads to deals.
Look for airlines rapidly expanding service to a city or budget carriers shaking up a market. Just be wary such deals may not last long term.
Currency Exchange Rates
International airfares are greatly impacted by currency fluctuations. Fares will be cheaper for US travelers when the US Dollar is strong compared to other currencies.
A weak US dollar makes foreign travel more expensive. Keep an eye on exchange rates when planning international trips.
Tips for Finding Cheap Flights
While timing your booking strategically helps, there are many other tricks that can lead to airfare deals and savings.
Use Flight Search Engines
Third party flight search engines like Kayak, Google Flights, and Skyscanner are invaluable research tools. Their algorithms compile data across airlines and constantly update.
Flight search engines make it easy to compare fares on different days and airlines. Their flexible search tools help pinpoint deals.
Be Flexible on Dates/Airports
Travelers who can fly on various days of the week and use different airports save the most. Even departing a day earlier or later can make a huge fare difference.
Expanding your airport options also helps, like using a smaller regional airport for connecting flights.
Leverage “Hidden City” Ticketing
If your travel plans are flexible, look for hidden city ticketing opportunities. This is when you book a connecting flight but get off at a layover point.
Often the layover city fare is cheaper than booking directly to that destination. Just be sure checked bags are not an issue.
Try Private/Incognito Browsing
Airlines may adjust fares based on cookies, browsing history and other data. Using incognito or private browsing modes eliminates tracking.
Regularly clear cookies and try different devices if you see fares spike. This forces airlines to re-quote you.
Don’t Ignore Budget Airlines
While limited on amenities and route networks, budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier offer deep discounts. The fare difference often outweighs paying for extras.
Just know their pricing model when shopping. Baggage fees, seat assignments, etc quickly add up if not factored in.
Consider Price Alerts
Signing up for airfare price alerts and notifications can alert you to sales and excellent deals as they are launched.
Staying on top of fluctuations and being ready to book is key to snagging the lowest fares.
Book Early Morning or Late Night Flights
Less popular flight times are a simple way to save. The first morning flights and late-night options tend to be much cheaper than peak travel hours.
As an added benefit – less crowded flights mean a better chance of an open middle seat!
When Not to Buy Airline Tickets
While timing is important, there are certain times airfare shoppers should avoid booking if possible:
– Within 14 days of departure – Last minute desperation pricing kicks in
– Holidays and school breaks – Demand spikes along with fares
– Monday mornings – Fares often rise over the weekend
– After major aircraft delays/cancellations – Airlines reduce capacity
Being flexible and waiting a few days can mean substantial savings compared to impulse buying at the wrong times. Track major delays or weather events that reduce capacity. Stay patient and keep watching for fares to settle back down.
Use a Bundling Strategy
Savings on airfare can be maximized by bundling other elements of your trip together. This includes:
– Booking airfare + hotel packages
– Adding rental car and trip insurance
– Prepaying for checked bags and seat assignments
Look for airlines offering bundle discounts and shop third party sites like Expedia. The more trip components you can lock in early, the more you save long term.
When to Use Cash vs. Miles
Should you pay cash or use airline miles for that ticket? It depends on your specific situation. In general:
|Pay Cash When
|Use Miles When
|– You don’t have enough miles
|– You have excess miles expiring
|– Fares are extremely low
|– Fares are unusually high
|– Earning frequent flyer perks
|– Special award seat availability
|– Non-hub routes with competition
|– Flying a monopolized route
|– Short flights under 500 miles
|– Long haul international flights
|– Basic economy fares
|– Upgrading seat classes
Crunch the numbers and valuation to see whether buying miles to book makes sense over paying cash. Don’t default to miles without doing the math on the redemption rate value.
Use miles strategically
– Book high demand routes for maximum valuation
– Transfer points between partner programs
– Pool miles with family/friends for an award flight
– Upgrade seat class with miles
– Know the tricks like stopovers on one way awards
Credit Card Rewards
Leveraging credit card points and rewards is one of the most powerful ways to reduce airfare costs. Cards that offer large signup bonuses, airline fee credits, and accelerated earning on travel spend can generate thousands in value for regular travelers. Some other ways to maximize value:
– Use points on high cash price flights for optimal cents per point valuation
– Transfer points between flexible programs to book awards
– Pool points with other members onto the same account
– Use points to cover taxes and fees on award tickets
– Book airfare through the card’s travel portal when rates are low
Finding affordable airfare takes effort and planning. The lowest fares go to savvy travelers that understand how pricing works and are flexible in their travel. Avoiding peak times, high demand routes, and impulse purchases wins over bargain fares. Monitoring sales and planning ahead, even by a few months, remains the ultimate key to unlocking deals. For frequent flyers, leveraging miles, credit card points and loyalty programs provide huge savings every year.