Summer is a hot time to travel – especially to destinations like Europe, Florida, Hawaii, California, Alaska, China, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. It’s a good year for travelers who need to travel by air too. Just recently, Delta announced they’ll be purchasing their own Pennsylvania oil refinery to keep prices low, despite the rising cost of gasoline. Also, a new set of rules has come down the pipeline, forcing airlines to publish more transparent fares. Despite these small victories and the burning desire to travel, you may find that airline tickets and baggage fees can get pretty high.
Here are some tips to help you save money on your next flight…
- Know how far in advance to book.
For summertime domestic flights, shopping three months ahead is a good idea, but you can often still find competitive rates 6 weeks in advance. The best time to book a trip to Europe was 21-22 weeks in advance. For the Caribbean, booking 11-12 weeks in advance yielded the best rates. A good place to look for historic trends and data is the Airlines Reporting Corporation.
- Book on the best day of the week.
Generally, the best day and time to book your ticket will be Tuesdays at about 3 pm ET. Early Tuesday morning is when big airlines like Southwest, Air Tran and Jet Blue make their new sales announcements. After a few hours, American, Delta, United and US Airways get around to price-matching some of those flights. By mid-afternoon, you’ll have full access to all of the best deals.
- Book the best departure and arrival days / times.
Statistically speaking, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. However, during the summer, these days can be expensive if they fall near a holiday like Independence Day or Memorial Day. Flying overnight or early in the morning will be your best bet.
- Consider the shoulder season.
You can save money traveling to Europe in late August or early September. In the Caribbean, December and mid-April offer lower prices. Often times, you’ll get the added benefit of less crowds as well. Just make sure to look at weather data to make sure you’re not cruising in Hurricane Season or planning to hike during Monsoon Season.
- Know your airports.
Larger airports are always cheaper to fly in and out of, thanks to industry consolidation and capacity cuts at smaller and mid-sized airports. It stands to reason if more flights are taking off, there will be more competition from carriers and your rates will be lower. If you’re flying to Europe, make sure you fly into an international gateway city like Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Madrid or Vienna.
- Make a connection.
If you’re willing to make a connection, stop and have some lunch, and then continue on your travel, you can often save a lot of money, versus flying direct. According to The New York Times, there is a whole new breed of traveler who has beaten the system by booking a flight to a cheap destination – only to deplane at the connecting hub… which is actually the traveler’s true destination of choice! For instance, one passenger found that a flight from Des Moines to Dallas was $375, but a flight from Des Moines to Los Angeles — with a stop in Dallas — was only $186. Note that many airlines expressly forbid this practice in their ticketing rules (except for South West), but the risk of detection is low, says NYT.
- Don’t check your bags.
As you may have heard, Spirit Airlines is now charging $100 for checked luggage. So now is the time to reconsider whether or not you can honestly cram your life into a backpack or a small carry-on. The time and money saved might make it worth doing a little laundry on vacation – or even shipping some of your supplies by mail!
- Choose “Flex-Search” options.
If you are not absolutely committed to specific dates, you can save hundreds of dollars by using the Flex-Search option. Orbitz and Travelocity allow you to search 3 days before and after your ideal travel date, but Hotwire will let you search 30 days before and after, and CheapAir.com has a massive 330-day search window (but, unfortunately, this is only for domestic flights). For international flights, you may find better flex-searches direct — through a site like Iceland Air.
- Use social media.
Airlines often advertise time-sensitive information and exclusive promo codes on social media pages, so you can keep abreast of the latest deals on Twitter and Facebook. Yet, some passengers have also reported tweeting their discontent in real-time to find that the airlines responded right away with free vouchers, meal credits, and other compensation.
- Access the best online tools.