This is the second post (part b) of the series “15 Tips for Cheap Travel.” You can navigate the rest of the series by going to the 15 Tips for Cheap Travel Index.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just go to one website or call just one phone number and find the cheapest plane ticket? Maybe someday this will occur. For now, the best way to find a cheap plane ticket is to spend some time doing research and checking multiple websites. I’ve divided this section into “fixed vs. flexible.” (If you haven’t read the post on planning your vacation you can find it here.)
If you have Fixed Dates and a Fixed Place: (i.e. you want to go to Boston from Washington DC on July 3rd to July 10th)
When you have fixed dates and a fixed destination the best option is to use Aggregators. These sites search hundreds of sites find the cheapest flight out there. My favorites are:
It doesn’t hurt to also try a few traditional online travel agencies including: Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. If you use these be sure to book through the airline’s own website though (see tip 3 below)
If you have Fixed Dates and a Fixed Place, and your dates are within the next few weeks also check Site59 which finds package deals within the next two weeks. Even if you don’t need a hotel at your destination, sometimes it finds an entire package cheaper than you can find a flight alone.
If you have Flexible Dates: (i.e. you can go anytime in July or you can leave within 1-3 days of a particular date)
If your dates are within 1-3 day spread (i.e. you can leave July 1st, 2nd, or 3rd): Use Kayak
If your dates are very flexible (i.e you can leave any time from now until July): Fare Compare, Farecast, and Travelocity — All have searches available by the month
A really cool feature: You want to Search by Activity: Check out Mobissimo Activity Search
Mobissimo lets you search by activity. You can search for flights by region (Europe, Asia, Latin America, Carribean, Middle East/Africa) or by other activities like beaches, spas “forgotten wonders,” opera houses, wine tasting, and more. It’s truly amazing.
General tips for finding cheap flights:
- Plan in Advance. The further out you know your travel schedule, the more time you will have to watch airfare prices.
- Be patient, but not too patient. If you’ve been researching for a while and a good price comes up, get it immediately.
- Buy direct from the Airline’s website (if you can). Most major airlines now guarentee the best prices on their own sites (though occassionally this isn’t the case.) There are two reasons to book directly with the airline you will be flying. First, many sites (including Orbitz and Expedia) charge an additional fee if you book through them. The major airlines don’t charge this fee. Second, and more importantly, you will get better service if something happens. Just recently my dad was returning home from a trip and his flight got canceled for no apparent reason. Even though I always tell him not to, he still books through Expedia. Well, let’s just say their customer service wasn’t up to par. Luckily the airline he was flying with was still willing to help him, but this isn’t always the case.
- Check Southwest.com. For some reason, Southwest Airlines isn’t searched by the flight Aggregators. If you are flying somewhere that they fly to, check their website for prices.
- Be flexible. If you are able to leave on Thursday and return on Monday you will often get better prices than if you fly Friday to Sunday.
- Don’t listen to the people who claim they can beat the system. (And their correction) Just like the stock-market, there are all sorts of people who claim they know what they’re talking about and they’ll tell you to only buy on certain days and certain times, etc. Go with your gut. If you’ve been researching prices and you feel that you’ve gotten the best one, you probably have.
- If the price goes down, it never hurts to ask. Sometimes you will buy a ticket and the price will drop the next day. It doesn’t hurt to call the airline and see if they’ll reduce your price. If they wont, don’t kick yourself; it happens to everyone: things go on sale just after you buy them.
- Consider the time of day that you fly and how it will affect your total transportation cost. If you can use public transportation to get to an airport, make sure you don’t buy a ticket for 6am before the subway has opened. (Likewise, if someone can drive you, don’t buy a ticket that is right in the middle of their work day). If you hadn’t paid $20 for that taxi ride, you may have been able to purchase a better plane ticket.
- (Update) Check out Farecast. Farecast is still in Beta and I just came across it today for the first time; but they have a cool little tool called Faregaurd. Farecast predicts whether an airfare that you are looking at (for only select cities in the next 90 days) will go up or down. They are so sure of their predictions that for $9.95 you can buy “insurance” which will protect your fare for 7 days from the day you buy Fareguard. You can find out more about how it works here. As I said, I’ve only just come across this site today, but after playing around with it for an hour I’m very impressed. I really like the arrows that it spits out to tell you whether to buy now or wait. They have nice maps and a good flexible search engine. This may be one of my new favorite travel sites!
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