Save Money on Airline Tickets – Vacation Tips for Cheap Flights

May 23, 2008

Buying cheap plane tickets can start your vacation budget off on the right foot.  An airline flight is often one of the first things you spend money for on your vacation so spending less on plane tickets will leave you more cash for the rest of your trip!

One of the most important things to consider about getting a bargain when it comes to airline tickets is to know when people fly most often.  The law of supply and demand tells us that this is the time when prices will be highest, avoid these times and you can save substantially on fares as well as in hassles with crowds. 

When You Fly
The most expensive days of the week to fly on are Friday and Sunday so to get a discount, fly midweek on a Tuesday or Wednesday.  You can also save money on your tickets by flying at lower demand times of the day, leaving really early or really late. 

When You Buy
Unless you can wait until the very last minute to fly stand-by or to buy a ticket when the airline is just trying to fill seats, it’s typically better to make your reservations at least 21 days in advance of traveling.  Airlines are willing to give you a lower price if you lock in your seat ahead of time because it helps them fill up the plane and cover their costs.  As the travel date gets closer, airlines can charge you higher prices since the demand for the tickets is more immediate.  You can use Farecast to help you predict how current conditions are effecting the rise and fall of ticket prices.

How You Buy
Like any business, the more employees that airlines have, the higher their costs. If they can answer your questions and sell you tickets through a website instead of on the phone with a live person they need fewer employees and they can save money.  To encourage customers to utilize the web, airlines will often offer a discounted rate for tickets purchased online.  If you have questions you’d like to discuss with a person, simply call in to get your questions answered, then go back and buy the ticket online.

Airport Location
Back to supply and demand.  Many travelers want to fly into the big hubs because that’s where a higher percentage of the population lives and that’s often where attractions are.  Sometimes if you can fly into a neighboring airport that’s in the suburbs instead of downtown or maybe even a few towns away, you may be able to get a cheaper fare.

It’s not just where you stop, it’s also how you get there.  Direct flights are the nicest to have but they can also be the most expensive.  If you’re willing to choose a flight with a layover or plane change you’re almost guaranteed to get a lower fare.

Comparison Shopping Online
The web makes it much easier to compare prices between different carriers.  There are several websites that will even do all the comparison for you such as Kayak, Sidestep, Orbitz, and Travelocity.  If you’re looking for summer travel deals, you can search for them in a centralized spot with these sites instead of having to wander all over the web on a quest for savings. 

Many of these sites will allow you to setup some type of alert that will notify you when there’s price action on the flights you’re interested in.  Airlines are constantly changing their ticket prices so sign up for these free price watch services to look for cheaper tickets. Of course, these websites are in business to make money and get a cut if you buy through them.  You can potentially save a little more money by finding the deal on a site like Orbitz or Kayak then going to the actual airline’s website and booking it there. 

Keep in mind that not all carriers are represented in these airline search sites.  Discount carriers such as Southwest and Jet Blue make every effort to keep their prices low.  If discount airlines listed their flights with sites like Travelocity or Orbitz they’d have to pay them an extra fee for referring the sale so they don’t publish their ticket prices there.  Make sure you check out the Southwest and Jet Blue websites when looking for a bargain on airfare.

Use Group Pricing Power
One of the ways to get a better deal on plane tickets is to take advantage of group pricing discounts.  For example, organizations such as AARP offer discounts for seniors and Student Advantage for students.  Member of the armed forces typically qualify for a military discount on plane tickets.  Discounts can’t normally be combined if you’re a member of multiple groups so in this case find the one that saves you the most.

If your employer has any kind of travel bureau that arranges tickets for business trips you may be able to purchase cheaper flights through them.  Another form of group pricing power are ticket consolidators such as Cheap Tickets.  Since they buy up large blocks of seats from the airlines they’re able to purchase the tickets at lower prices and pass the savings onto you.  Although this isn’t a group that you become a member of or belong to, they are able to leverage pricing power to get a better price for tickets.

Travel agents are another group of people that belong to organizations that have access to cheaper tickets.  Although they tack on their own fee for finding you a flight, it doesn’t hurt to ask them for a quote.  Let them know the best price you can find a flight for and see if they can beat it.  One way that travel agents can help is if you need a flight, hotel, and rental car they may be able to use their relationships and pricing power to find you a better all around deal on a whole travel package, even after their fees.

Pack Light
Due to increased price pressures from fuel prices, more airlines are looking for ways to cut their costs. Some airlines such as American and JetBlue are charging an extra $20–$25 to check a second piece of luggage on a flight.  For a round trip, a second bag could end up costing you an extra $40–50.  Not all airlines have this extra charge in place but it’s likely that more will move in that direction.

Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Travel rewards credit cards come in a variety of flavors.  It’s possible to use airline specific cards such as the  JetBlue from American Express or the Gold Delta SkyMiles card; or you could use a more generic one such as Blue Sky from American Express.  Each has a different reward and redemption structure so research the details to find the best travel rewards credit card for you.  In some cases, such as the deal on the NEW Business Gold Rewards Card(R) from American Express OPEN, you can even get 50,000 points after signing up and spending $10,000 in the first 5 months.

Airline Savings Summary
Not all of the savings methods discussed above will apply to you but chances are at least a few will.  Be sure to use these money saving tips in combination to reduce your airfare to your vacation destination.  This post is part of the Saving Money on Vacation Travel series.  Sign up for free updates to get the next article with tips for saving money on hotels.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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