Find the Cheapest Flights and Buy Your Next Ticket Like a Pro

Whether you’re tired of paying a premium price only to board a half-empty plane or are looking to save on the most expensive part of planning your next vacation, trying to understand airfare prices can leave customers pulling out their hair.

But there’s actually a method to ticket pricing madness! Here’s a quick rundown of best practices when buying plane tickets so you don’t ever have to worry that you could’ve gotten a better deal elsewhere:

Know When To Buy & When To Fly

Did you know airlines cash in on knowing our buying habits? Airlines use a complex system to determine ticket prices that first considers desirable days to travel. That means the first step to saving is by not following the norm:

Shop early, but don’t buy: 

Airlines may list flights up to a year out, but seat prices get lowered four months before departure (five for international flights).

But there’s a trick to shopping early. Ever recheck a flight and noticed the price has gone up? Not only do ticket prices change up to three times per day (hint — sign up for email alerts!) all that shopping around has likely left cookies in your internet browser, letting the site know you’re a return shopper.

Purchasing flights that leave on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will score you the best deals, as these flights are considered less desirable by business passengers.

Don’t let airlines know you really want that flight! Be sure to clear your browsing history before your final purchase (or browse in incognito mode) to make sure flight prices aren’t raised due to your repeated visits.

Experts say 54 days before:

While economists say the best time to buy is six to eight weeks before your desired flight (although, there’s a small chance seats could be sold out, so be sure to keep an eye on how many are left), they’ve actually pinned it down to the very day.

The magic number “54” is good for domestic travel. If you’re going international, data says the best time to buy is between five months and forty-five days before — depending on the time of year. 

If you think that’s exact, check this out: Data analysts have pinpointed that the best time to buy your ticket is on a Tuesday, at 3pm EST.

Tip: Holiday travel is an exception. If you’re looking to fly during these popular periods, buy your ticket as soon as possible, as prices will go sky high the longer you wait.

Don’t follow normal habits:

Want to make the most of your vacation days? So does everyone else. That’s why flights departing on a Sunday are the most expensive year round.

Purchasing flights that leave on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will score you the best deals, as these flights are considered less desirable by business passengers.

Tip: Avoid shopping for tickets on a Friday! Airlines know you’re tired from a long week and dreaming of a vacation, and raise prices since so many people purchase tickets that day. Instead, purchase tickets early in the week when bargain prices are offered.

Be Flexible With Your Dates & Location

Sometimes a little inconvenience can save big money. Check out the following tips and decide whether you’re willing to endure a longer travel day or shopping experience.

Connecting flights: 

Not every time, but often enough to take note, you can find a cheaper ticket by foregoing the ease of a non-stop flight in favor of a less convenient connecting flights. Adding a stop or two can save you up to 50%, especially on longer routes! Here are two examples:

Small town: Pocatello, Idaho to  Seattle:

  • Non-stop: $445
  • One stop:  $394

What you save: $51 per ticket, or $200+ for a family of four.

Medium city: Dayton, Ohio to Denver:

  • Non-stop: $615
  • One-stop: $447

What you save: $168 per ticket.

Airport size matters:

Bigger airports are generally hubs for certain airlines, and will often offer cheaper flights with that particular airline. If you live in an area with a smaller, secondary airport, consider if driving an hour or two is worth the potential savings.

Alternatively, most major cities have a smaller, secondary airport that cheap or budget airlines fly to because there’s a smaller passenger tax that allows the airline to keep costs down. Check out which airlines fly into these smaller airports to search potential deals. For example, JetBlue flies to Long Beach instead of LAX. While in Europe, the budget airline Ryanair will fly to Eindhoven, Netherlands instead of Amsterdam for a significant savings.

America only has a handful of budget airlines due to the stronghold major players in the industry keep on gate allotments at major and secondary airports. That means most Americans aren’t as knowledgeable about the savings opportunity when flying overseas. However, Europe offers a wide variety of budget carriers that keep prices very low, and the same for Asia.

Many times, these low-cost airlines offer no-fare tickets — you pay just the taxes. Flying the budget airlines is a good alternative to flying the “majors” whenever possible. You get fewer “perks”, but you can save a bundle in ticket costs. But be sure to check out how far the airports are from the city center — sometimes transportation from the airport to the city can actually make a budget airline more expensive. However, in general, these low-cost budget airlines are a good deal.

Tip: Often these budget carriers don’t show up on flight search engines! For example, AirAsia offers daily routes between Bali and Thailand that don’t register on Google Flights (my favorite scouting tool). If you really want to save big, do your legwork and look up what carriers fly to your destination by looking at the airport’s website, and you may find a few that you’ve never heard of.

A word of caution before you go budget:

Budget airlines are notorious for their low prices (hence the name) but that doesn’t mean they don’t come at a cost. Many budget airlines charge outlandish fees for things travelers have come to take for granted. 

How low can they go? Spirit Airlines has recently started charging $26 per carry-on bag! While that’s not exorbitant, it could get pricey if you thought you were buying a cheap weekend trip for your family of four.

Avoid shopping for tickets on a Friday! Airlines know you’re tired from a long week and dreaming of a vacation, and raise prices since so many people purchase tickets that day.

AirAsia's website will try and dupe you into paying an extra $8 to pick your own seat. And I’ve personally walked away from a $35 Ryanair flight after going to the counter only to be told there was an extra $75 fee because I didn’t check in online first. (Ryanair is notorious for their fees, and a quick internet search will yield some pretty amazing rants from angry passengers!)

Shop one passenger at a time: 

When booking travel for two or more, you can potentially save by shopping one passenger at a time.  A lot of travelers don’t realize that economy seats on the same flight can sell for several different prices. The price varies depending on what the airline thinks you’ll pay at any given moment.

But here’s the big deal: Airline reservation systems require that when there are multiple tickets sold in a single transaction, those tickets must be the same price. In other words, if you want to buy four tickets and there are two seats left at $100, and the next price level is $200, you’ll be charged $200 for each ticket!

But, if you book one at a time, you pay just $100 each for two seats, and $200 a piece for the remaining two. You’ve just saved $200 and that’s something. Here’s how to check it out:

When asked for the number of passengers, go ahead and enter “4” and see what airfare prices is given for your trip. Don’t buy yet.

Now go back to the start but this time when asked the number of passengers, enter “1.” If you’re quoted the same price as you got for four people, you can go back and buy all your tickets in the same transaction. 

However, if you get a lower price, good news – it means you’ll get some savings. Book that ticket and others one by one until the price jumps. When that happens, you can go ahead and purchase the remaining tickets all at the same time.

Know The Final Cost

When searching for airfare prices on popular sites such as Travelocity, Trip Advisor, or others, might only be calculating the base fare. These sites are nothing more than middlemen, and while they might offer you some great deals, they won’t be at the ticket counter to help if things go wrong. 

So, how do you protect yourself from unexpected fees? 

Before you purchase a ticket from any secondary source, be sure to visit the airlines website! Read their regulations on ticket changes and transfers, baggage costs (especially for sports equipment or pets) and refund charges.

If it’s an airline you haven’t heard of, be sure to search online for reviews to save yourself the headache of finding out once it’s too late.

Finally, Know What You Want to Pay for a Flight

Airfare shoppers have a bad habit of waiting too long when they’re trying to get the lowest price, then being forced to pay too much. We all know ticket prices bounce up and down, yet in the quest to hold out just a little longer, most miss out on the best price.

Before you shop for a ticket, it’s important to know what you want to pay, not what you hope to pay. What’s the lowest price that’s good for you? What do you feel comfortable paying?

Don’t wait for the perfect price — wait for YOUR price, and you’ll have the security of knowing every ticket you purchase was worth it.

Do you have any tips for finding the best airfare prices? Let us know in the comments!

Read Next: 10 Common Myths About Air Travel Debunked

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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