How to find the lowest airfares?
It’s a vexing question in this day and age in which many of us essentially act as our own own travel agents.
This usually means combing a variety of Internet search engines and airline sites, taking a stab at sometimes obscure “airfare hacks” that may be overly complex or irrelevant to our situations, or just quickly booking a flight and hoping for the best because we simply don’t have time for all the other stuff.
Of course, one thing is always in the back of your mind: Could I have saved hundreds of dollars or more by checking more sites, trying more hacks, booking on a different day?
Steve Cuffari, Senior Content Marketing Manager at couponbox.com, an international savings website that includes a travel component, feels your pain. He notes that “Flight hunting is an endeavor of successes and failures, victories and defeats. There are no guarantees.” But, he says, if you know your options and keep them open, successes are more likely than failures.
To this end, he’s compiled a list of five tried-and-true methods for saving money on airfares and maximizing your chances of finding the best flights every time — without a huge amount of effort. Here are Steve’s techniques, in his own words,with my comments attached:
Sign up for Alerts and Track Trends
It’s the 21st century. If you’re not using apps, alerts and search engines to find the best ticket prices, then you need to step up your game. There are dozens of companies that offer apps, alerts or both. The best ones are free, so you can sign up for several at no cost. Kayak.com and Google Flights have the most comprehensive listings, but Skyscanner.com, TravelPirates.com and AirfareWatchdog.com are also very good and have apps of their own.
Once you have all your alerts set up, you can track pricing trends on your own or use the built-in functions that come with each app.
My notes: This is great advice. I regularly use kayak.com for my own airfare searches; kayak now offers so called “hacker fares,” which are essentially two one-way fares on different airlines that may be lower priced than a round-trip ticket on the same airline. (While you can search these out on your own and buy the tickets separately, it’s time-consuming.)
I’m also a big fan of Google Flights, which allows you to almost instantly compare prices between different travel dates, among other nifty features. For instance, I just tried pricing a round trip from Tucson to New York City on December 3 with return on December 7. It showed a “best fare” of $363. But with a single click, I found that by returning on December 8, the fare for the same flights would drop to $341. So if I had some flexibility, I could save $22 — not a huge amount to be sure, but worth knowing, and, of course, the savings could be much greater.
And I regularly rely on airfarewatchdog.com to send me airfare alerts on routes I travel frequently, so I’ll know when a low fare has just shown up.
Plan Ahead but Stay Flexible
Planning ahead is an obvious truth in flight hunting. The more time you have to search, the better your chances are at finding the best price. Staying flexible is a key part of this planning. Most travel websites and apps have a “flexible dates” search option which allows you to view a chart of possible flights for a range of departure and return dates.Use it.Still, last-minute flight deals are a reality and they can pop up without any warning.
The only way to take advantage of surprise deals like these is to be ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and pack your bags. Not everyone can do this, but this flexibility is often the key to finding the cheapest tickets.
My notes: Baby boomer travelers who are retired are in the best position to take advantage of last-minute deals and flexible schedules, so I would urge anyone who can take advantage of last-minute fares to do so. Again, signing up for airfare alerts from airfarewatchdog.com or other sites can alert you to these.
Know Where You Want to Go
“Knowing where you want to go” is not simply choosing a destination. Knowing where you want to go means research. Learning about your destination can save you money in unexpected ways:
Geography: Knowing airport locations, transportation links and nearby towns and cities can help you save money by flying indirectly to your destination. Often, it is cheaper to fly to surrounding areas which are accessible by inexpensive local or regional transportation from your final destination.
Culture: The cost of flying to most tourist destinations is affected greatly by local holidays and special events. Knowing what they are and avoiding them can save you tons of money, unless of course the purpose of your trip is to visit for those occasions.
Weather: Like culture, weather affects the cost of ticket prices to fly to most tourist destinations. High season (when more people travel and flights are more expensive) is usually during the summer months, and low season is usually during the winter. Avoid high season and reap the benefits! And remember, south of the equator, summer months begin in December, not June.
My notes: The good thing about traveling in the off-season, besides saving money (on lodging as well as airfare), is that the weather is often better in, say. the fall or spring than in the hot summer months. And you’ll have to compete with far fewer visitors — which means shorter lines, more availability, and fewer crowds to battle.
Always Check Multiple Sources Before Booking
You’ve done it. You’ve found the right flight, the right date and the right price. Just click that Book Now button, and start day-dreaming about your upcoming trip. Right? Not exactly.
If you haven’t checked multiple sources for your ticket, then you’re not done. Consider the following techniques to cross-reference your price on multiple sites:
Change Your Location: Most websites know what location you are searching from based on your IP address. They can serve you up different prices based on that address. Try using a VPN to change your location when you visit a website. You might be pleasantly surprised by a lower fare.
Use Local Sites and Currency: If you are searching for an international flight, make sure that you check country-specific versions of the site you’re on and in the local currency. Trying this in combination with changing your IP address can produce some interesting and lucrative results.
Check the Airline Website: While it is important to use apps, search engines and price alerts, it is also crucial that you never fail to check airline websites in conjunction with these tools. More often than not, buying directly from the airline does not save you money. Still, you can avoid kicking yourself later by doing your due diligence and checking. At the very least, it’s good to know what the airline’s price is so that you know exactly how much you are saving.
My notes: If you check country-specific versions of a website to book an international flight, you may run into language difficulties. If you don’t read Spanish, for instance, google will translate the home page for you, but not the subsequent pages you need to actually book the flight — at least, that’s been my experience. Using the local currency to book can definitely save you some money. And checking the airline’s website never hurts — sometimes they do have the best deals
Be Realistic and Keep Your Eyes on Total Spending
Tips, tricks and “hacks” can easily turn into traps. Being realistic means understanding that you won’t always find the best flight price to suit your needs. It also means coming to terms with having to pay more sometimes. In those cases, you can keep your eyes on the prize by trying to save on other aspects of travel, like accommodations, food and entertainment.
Sites like Airbnb.com, Hostels.com and even Couchsurfing.com can save you tons of money on places to stay. You can save money on food by finding accommodations equipped with kitchens.
In some cases, you can even get a refund from the airline if the price of your flight drops after you book it. The website Yapta.com can help you to get these refunds in accordance with each airline’s rules.
My notes: Thanks to Steve Cuffari at Couponbox.com for his insights. You can read Steve’s entire original article here, which includes the results of a Couponbox.com survey that asked 2,000 random Americans, “Where do you find the best flight deals?”
The majority of respondents said they find the best flight deals on search engines (28.2%), travel websites (27.4%) or airline websites (20.3%).
Less than 20 percent total said they find the best flights deals via mobile apps (6.8%), email alerts (6.1%) and email newsletters (3.2%).
And eight percent said they find the best flight deals the old school way — at travel agencies.
Note to Readers: Where do you find your best flight deals? Leave a comment and let me and your fellow readers know — thanks!