Airfare prices seem to be increasing by the day, but Travel + Leisure's Nilou Motamed has tips on how to get the most bang for your buck.
Timing is everything when it comes to getting the best airfare. This applies to when you decide to travel — and when you buy. In the past, prices might drop as the departure date approached in order to fill seats. But higher fuel prices and fuller planes mean that now you’re less likely to score a last-minute deal. But don’t fret. Here’s what you can do to find a good deal on airfare.
1. Know how far in advance to book
While there’s no exact science, you can make informed choices by looking at the booking timeframes from the past year during which travelers paid the lowest airfares on average. Domestic flights have been cheapest on average about six weeks in advance of the flight, according to Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which supplies data based on historic trends of actual purchases. But six weeks isn’t a hard and fast rule. Begin searching three to four months in advance for U.S. travel and book if a good value crops up. For European travel, the booking window that yielded the lowest prices last year, on average, was 21 to 22 weeks, while for the Caribbean, 11 to 12 weeks yielded the lowest fares, on average, in winter last year, according to a recent report in the New York Times using data from ARC.
2. Consider shoulder season travel to popular destinations
To save money on a trip to Europe, consider flying in late August or early September when prices tend to drop. For the Caribbean, consider early December or after mid-April when prices are generally lower.
3. Don’t limit your searches to certain times of the week
George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com says that while many airlines have advertised sales on Tuesday and Wednesday, the best fares are unadvertised and can pop up at any hour of the week. If you only search certain days, you may miss out on some great deals. One strategy is to sign up for fare alerts from sites like Airfarewatchdog to find out about the lowest fares from your home city. New DOT rules now allow you to cancel your flight for a full refund within 24 hours, so if you book and something better pops up shortly after – you can rebook with no penalty.
4. Follow your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook
Airlines often post time-sensitive airfare deals on their social media sites. Those who follow them will be the first to know about these deals that can come and go quickly.
5. Fly on less popular days and times
Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesday, or Saturdays for lower fares. And keep in mind that early morning flights and overnight flights can often offer the lowest rates.
6. Use online tools
Fly.com has a fare calendar that allows you to see the lowest fares for flights from your city taking off in the next 90 days. It can also show the cheapest day to fly your select route in a given timeframe. Bing.com/travel will calculate whether the flight you’re booking is likely to go up or down in price with a handy “buy now” or “buy later” recommendation.
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