This is my article published many years ago in the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers. I have been involved recently in many research projects. I will continue to re-publish favorite travel skills articles. Let me know what topics are of interest to you.
Be Flexible The most important factor for getting lower airfares is flexibility. When possible, check alternate airports, a range of days and times, other carriers, and various routings. Opportunities for lower airfares increase when you have more options.
Buy Early Most discounted airfares must be purchased several days before the flight—usually 21 or 14 for the biggest discounts. However, the lowest prices are offered during fare wars (sales), which may be several months before you want to fly. For instance, the cheapest summer flights to Europe are traditionally sold between the previous Thanksgiving and Christmas. One way to discover fare wars is to use a customized homepage (such as My Yahoo!) and continually check fares for your favorite routes. Investigate whether a sale is in progress when prices suddenly change. Many web sites, including airline and booking web sites, notify subscribers by e-mail when fares drop.
Buy Late Many airlines offer distressed inventory as last-minute airfares. They rarely match the lowest airfares offered during fare sales, but last-minute airfares can be great deals for emergency flights or impulse trips. Airlines release last-minute airfares each week around Wednesday morning for flights that weekend. However, a recent trend is to offer “last-minute” fares for flights more than one week into the future. Sign up to receive e-mail notification from each airline or SmarterLiving.com, who compiles the information from all airlines for most cities.
Surf for Lower Airfares Compare fares offered by major booking web sites to fares listed on the airline’s web site. The airline’s price may be lower or they may offer bonus frequent flyer points. Booking web sites do not include Southwest Airlines, so visit Southwest’s web site to find their fares.
Use a Travel Agent Travel agents usually save you time and stress and often save you money. For instance, they may have preferred discounts with certain airlines and can offer lower airfares than you can find. They can also sell consolidator fares and charter flights that are not available to consumers.
Book Direct Call airlines directly to book bereavement or compassion fares. Some web sites do not offer senior, children, or group discounts. Keep in mind Step 1, Be Flexible, when calling airlines for fare quotes.
Get More, Pay Less Look for packages—lodging, rental car, and/or meals in addition to the flight—that cost a little more or even LESS than the airfare alone. Each winter, packages (including seven nights lodging and rental car) to Australia and other South Pacific destinations cost only $100 more than the airfare. Prices do not increase as the departure date approaches and a Saturday night stay is not required, making packages ideal for last-minute travelers.
Airfare Ploys Big savings can result from splitting long flights into two separate round-trip flights. You can even create a stopover and use different airlines, if you choose. Lower airfares or more convenient flights may be found when using co-terminals, which are different airports in the same city or area. Open jaw, charter, courier, consolidator, or round-the-world flights result in lower airfares in some situations.
Charles McCool is a travel consultant specializing in helping consumers and businesses save money, time, and stress on all aspects of travel. He is the author of Winning the Airfare Game and operates http://lowerairfares.com/.