As a 40-year Airline employee, everyone is always asking me about good ticket deals for their next trip. I mean, ALWAYS. Like I have pricing power. (I don’t!) But I have been around long enough to know how the cadence of the game goes, how to get a good deal, how NOT to get a great deal, and how to successfully double-dip if the price goes down AFTER you purchase. And let’s face it, as we get a little older, that wanderlust just gets more intense—and when the kids are finally out of the house we might just have a little extra money to spend on travel!
Here are my top tips on how to get the best bang for your airline buck for upcoming travels.
1. Plan early but not TOO early. Airlines practice revenue management, which means they analyze and parcel out their cheapest seats based on highly complicated mathematical algorithms supported by sophisticated and expensive software systems. However—if you’re looking waaay out before departure, like 120-plus days, cheap seat availability may not be updated super frequently. So START looking early…but watch for a few days before you make your purchase. **UNLESS**….
2. ….you are flying on points. If you’re going to a dream destination, the free seats are gone pretty much as soon as they open. Most airlines begin selling 331 days before departure (others, like Jetblue and Southwest, are a little closer-in), but if you’re wanting to book seats to Hawaii or Europe or Asia using your miles, start looking almost at the stroke after midnight 331 days before you want to depart. If you don’t know how far your airline is booking into the future—just call their reservations line and ask.
3. DO NOT wait until the last second, but if you have to, still look for good deals. Sometimes airline will dump cheap seats the week of departure to fill up empty markets. Plus, if you’re “of age” some airlines still offer Senior Citizen Discounts. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict this, but sometimes the “Travel Gods” will just smile on your last-minute trip!
4. Pic the time of day of your booking intentionally. Fares are usually filed early in the day and again around noon, and the number of cheap seats typically are adjusted overnight, so keep both of those facts in mind when you’re trying to find the bargain of a lifetime for your trip of a lifetime!
5. You will almost always get the cheapest prices in coach on the airline’s own website. Sorry, all those other guys. If you’re looking for cheaper up-front seats, then some of the consolidator websites are definitely worth a look.
6. The “common wisdom” that Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly AND the cheapest days on which to book your tickets. Neither are always true; it all depends on what’s going on. The best way to get a cheap deal is to “stalk” your airline(s) and use their tools. Most airlines have “bargain finder” tools on their websites to actually help you find the best days and prices for your trip.
7. Watch, or read, the news. If a fare war breaks out, you could easily benefit by taking advantage of the sale fares for your trip!
8. Join the frequent flyer programs for the airlines you are most likely to use to your destination, AND sign up for their email updates. Yes, you may get a lot of spam in your inbox, but airlines are very intentional in communicating fare sales with their frequent flier members.
9. Check your airline’s change policies very carefully. What you want to be able to do, without a lot of hassel, is downgrade your ticket if a better price comes along. Some airlines will charge their full change fees for that downgrade; so if your fare has gone down by $120, but your airline charges a $200 “change” fee (which is so ridiculously bogus I still don’t know why the DOT allows them), you’d still end up paying $80 to get a cheaper fare. That’s stupid. Other airlines don’t charge change fees, so you always have a great shot at getting the cheapest fare available as long as (1) you find out about it! and (2) there is inventory available.
10. Frequent Traveller points behave just like cash purchases, so all of these suggestions work without regard to whether you’re paying with cash or with points.
After all that, once you’re buckled into your seat and in the air, celebrate all the money you’ve saved by enjoying a beverage. *CLINK* Enjoy, folks. Next time: tips for my absolute, all-time favorite big-city international destination: LONDON!