Top 5 tips for cheap airfare tickets
1. The sweet spot: Buy early in the week.
According to Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com, airlines are doing more short-lived sales, with three-day sales becoming the norm. These deals are typically put in the system on Monday nights, so you need to shop from Tuesday through Thursday to get the cheapest prices, he said.
2. Do the comparisons.
You’d love a weekend at the beach and decide you want to go to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on April 9 and return on April 11, in time for work the next day.
On Wednesday, AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines were offering sale fares on their Web sites for as little as $44 one-way from Atlanta. But that low fare was good for only one destination —Charlotte, N.C., not exactly a tropical location.
Both airlines offered a $74 one-way sale fare to Ft. Lauderdale. But your weekend jaunt wouldn’t qualify because Friday and Sunday travel is excluded for the best fares.
For the April 9-11 trip, AirTran was cheaper on Tuesday — $309 was its lowest price, while Delta’s was $408.
So, travelers should read the fine print and be aware that terms and fares can change from one day to the next. Example: In Delta’s sale, the lowest fare to select U.S. cities was $59 on Tuesday. It was lowered to $44 on Wednesday for the route to Charlotte to match AirTran. Also, the terms of Delta’s sale as of Tuesday stated the fares were for travel starting April 12. That was moved up to April 6 on Wednesday for Florida travel, again matching AirTran.
And here’s another reason to buy on Tuesdays. On Wednesday, the cheapest AirTran roundtrip ticket for the Ft. Lauderdale itinerary had spiked to $428. Delta’s cheapest ticket on Wednesday was still $408. If you could wait a week, you could fly Delta for $209 roundtrip, if you bought the ticket Wednesday. But you wouldn’t get brunch because you’d have to leave for home at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday, April 18, to get that rate. Had you bought that Delta ticket on Tuesday, it would have only cost $149.
3. Be mindful of your location.
Airlines may more frequently hawk fare sales from their hub cities. For instance, Chicago is a hub for United Airlines, while Miami is a hub for American Airlines. More flights into and out of those cities means more seats to fill. This can lead to more chances for discounts, depending on season and other factors.
Veteran Minneapolis travel industry expert Terry Trippler advises people in a non-hub city to be ready to buy just about anytime a sale is offered.
A good example: On Wednesday, Continental Airlines was offering fares as low as $218 roundtrip between Tampa, Fla., and Las Vegas. That was a good deal considering the distance, the popularity of travel to Vegas and the fact that neither city is a hub for Continental.
Those in hub cities can be more patient.
“If I were in a hub city I might wait awhile — especially a hub where a low-fare airline has a decent percentage of the business,” Trippler said.
Atlanta is a good example. It is a hub for discount carrier AirTran. Baltimore, where both Southwest and AirTran have a significant presence, is another example.
4. Pay your fees up front.
Some of the good feeling generated from scoring a great deal can dissipate if you get hit with more than $50 in bag fees. So, pack light and use all that space in your carry-on bags.
When you do check bags, be aware that some airlines charge more if you pay the fee at the airport. You can pay up front on your airline’s Web site and save some money.
US Airways, for instance, charges $23 to check your first bag online, but $25 at the airport. For a second checked bag, US Airways gets $32 online or $35 at the airport.
5. Wait, but not too long.
You don’t have to book months in advance to get the best deals. Many airlines are recycling similar sales over and over again as they seek to fill planes amid a turnaround in demand for air travel.
But, FareCompare’s Seaney warns that procrastinators may not find the same deals they did just six months ago. That’s because since the end of the third quarter of 2009 seats have become more scarce and prices more firm so airlines have no incentive to release cheap seats to those who procrastinate, Seaney said.
Also, book your ticket sooner for the busier summer season than you would if you plan to fly in the fall or winter.
While some airlines offer last-minute deals to certain points on certain days, in general for leisure travel it is a good idea to give yourself a cushion of at least a month from the time you buy your ticket to the time you plan to travel.