Getting a good deal on airfare can make or break a vacation. Airfare and lodgings typically account for the two biggest expenses when you sit down and map out your trip. There has been a lot of talk about when is the right time to buy a ticket and when is the best time to fly. Questions also popup like, where should I be getting these tickets from and should I even bother with a mileage program. We hope to clear some of that mystery up for you, so let’s get started.
What are the cheapest days to fly on?
This one is pretty simple. Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly on, followed by Tuesday and then Saturday. Friday and Sunday, however are the most expensive days to fly. If you are looking to take it to the next level, the absolute cheapest fare is going to be the first two early morning flights and the last one or red-eye flight. If you are going for the last flight of the day keep in mind that an airport is a lot like the doctors office, the longer the day goes on the more likely they are to get behind schedule.
When is the best time to buy my airline ticket(s)?
This answer has more moving parts, but we will try to lay it out for you. The standard advice for this one is Tuesday afternoons through Thursday. CheapAir.com did a study last year where they analyzed over 4 million trips and the booking data of over 1.3 billion fares to come up with the answer to this question. Much like in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” they came up with a simple answer, 54. You should buy your ticket 54 days ahead of when you plan to fly. Now what happens if the 54th day falls on a Friday, and you’re like you just told me to buy my ticket Tuesday thru Thursday? Simple, buy it the Tuesday before. Other things to keep in mind are; the first half of January is a good time to buy tickets. Airlines run destination sales then, and available travel dates usually extend into spring. Fares are highest for peak travel seasons like summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you are flying overseas you should be buying 60 days out. *There is a caveat to the 54 day rule and that is Thanksgiving and Christmas, and as far as that goes all bets are off.
They full findings of the report: “According to the data, sometime around 225 days out (seven and a half months), on average, fares started to drop and by 104 days out (three and a half months) they had fallen to within $10 of their low point. From there they continued to drop, slowly but steadily, until reaching a low 54 days before departure. After 54 days, fares started to climb again, remaining within $10 of that low until 29 days out. Then, the increase began to accelerate and once you were within 14 days the fares really shot up dramatically.” – CheapAir.com
Are there some airports that are more expensive to use then others?
The short answer on this one is, YES. Fly the Big Hubs, usually a bigger airport can mean bigger savings. If you’re in a medium to small sized city, it may pay to drive to the nearest big-city and fly from there. For example if you’re in Los Angeles, LAX is usually cheaper than Burbank. Competition drives prices down, ergo the more competition the better the prices. This one doesn’t always hold to be true, but it’s worth a shot to run a second search on the closest big airport. International Travel can go both ways. A lot of the low cost airlines in Europe will fly out of the cities second smaller airport to avoid certain fees. But you can get hit with extra commuter fees if you have to fly from a regional airport to the hub to switch planes, it might be worth it just to start from that airport.
Should I even bother with a frequent flyer program, and if so which one?
Yes you should, and here’s why. YOU CAN EARN A FREE FLIGHT! The most common answer I hear for why people don’t sign up is, “I don’t fly that much”. If you take just one flight every two years eventually you are going to earn a free one. It is a simple concept that coffee houses and sandwich shops have been using for years; buy 9 cups of coffee and the 10th one is on us. Signing up takes about the same amount of info you used to get that grocery store savings card in your wallet; so my question is why not? The second half of this question has some factors involved. For the casual user: if you live in Atlanta your home airport is also home to Delta Airlines, so chances are 9 out of every 10 flights you take will be on Delta; that being the case I would probably sign up for Delta Skymiles. Another example might be if you fly home to see your parents/family once a year, which airline offers you the most flights to your destination; look into that airline’s program. Now if you are ready to really take your traveling by the horns and transition to the next level, you are going to want to put some thought into your chose. Airlines have partners, and not only other airlines, the partner up with car rental agencies, hotel chains and credit card companies. There are 3 major airline alliances in the US; OneWorld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. That is not to say there aren’t others, but these three have the biggest reach. My favorite place to get information about these alliances is a website called ThePointsGuy.com, and as you can guess it is a place dedicated to getting you travel points. This link will take you to his latest breakdown on the alliances and this one will take you to his section on airline cards.
Star Aliance Hack: Aegean Airlines, a Greece-based newcomer to Star Alliance, has the easiest path to Gold status with a low threshold of 20,000 status miles. (Most other programs require 50,000 miles to be flown before earning this top-tier). So how does this work? First you have to sign up for the Aegean “Miles and Bonus” program. Then, when checking in for any Star Alliance-affiliated airline’s flight, credit your miles to your Aegean membership number rather than the program affiliated with the airline you’re flying.
Is it better to get a ticket from the airline or a discount travel site?
You might have already guessed the answer to this one, it’s the airline. If price is the only thing that matters then run a few searches and whoever gives you the best one, go for it. Airlines tickets have all these codes attached to them and the computers no which ones were but where and if it was a special sale and on and on. For things like collecting points to receive free upgrades, tickets booked directly through the airline tend to carry more weight. The other place this might affect you is, let’s say your flight gets cancelled and the ticket system starts automatically making adjustments to get you on a new flight. No surprise the computer is going to secure seats for the passengers with airline tickets first and then move onto the ones bought through the travel site.
Bringing it all together: Getting Your Airline Ticket
Ok, you know when and where you want to go, now let’s get that ticket. First thing I do is run a search on Kayak.com. Then whatever airline shows up with the best deal I head directly to their site and rerun the search. Next just to double check I am not missing anything I go to my favorite travel site Expedia and run it again. (Now this is the point where if there is a second major airport in the area I would do the whole process again and compare the results.) Finally I am ready to purchase the ticket, but not before entering my frequent flyer number.
There is an alternative kind of site that is for the traveler that knows they want to go somewhere, but just not where. You set your home airport and then tell it when you want to travel and it will just give you a bunch of results. You can then sort them by various factors, but the most interesting one is by price; sometimes you can find crazy deals like flights for $49. AirfaireWatchdog is a great place to go to run one of these searches; they also help you keep an eye on airline fees. Another option is Google Flights and they have incorporated their familiar maps to make it a visual candy land of possibilities.
It’s Time to Start Saving. Any Tips or Questions, We Would Love to Hear Them.
*A special thanks to all the travel sites used in this article, and of particular notoriety CheapAir.com for taking the time to do the research for all of us.