Finding the cheapest flights

Flying is a hassle. From getting to the airport to going through security to tearfully reuniting with your luggage, the whole process is a bit of a pain. Oh, and it’s expensive. Really expensive. The price of an average roundtrip domestic flight is just under $500. For international flights, it’s nearly $1,400.

Once you’ve committed to flying you’ve committed to spending gobs of money, but there are ways to reduce those costs. What a ticket costs today is not what it will cost tomorrow, so the key is figuring out how to minimize your costs. Here are some handy tips on how to do just that.

Buy your tickets on Tuesday (or maybe Sunday)

The thinking for a long time has been that the best day of the week to buy plane tickets is Tuesday – specifically Tuesday afternoon. Per travel site FareCompare.com, airlines typically release sales and promotions on Monday (usually in the evening). On Tuesday their competitors begin adjusting their prices on similar flights in order maintain market share. So by Tuesday afternoon, everyone has dropped their prices to stay competitive – then those deals dry up and the cycle starts again the next week.

recent study by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), however, throws a little shade on Tuesday’s spotlight. After researching 130 million transactions in 2013, the ARC’s data actually found that tickets sold on Sunday were, on average, the cheapest. Tuesday tickets were the cheapest among those sold during the work week – so Sunday and Tuesday are probably the best two days to do your price checking.

Buy your tickets 54 days in advance

CheapAir.com did their own research on airplane ticket prices and confirmed some important facts about the price of those tickets:

  • Don’t buy tickets too late. Last-second deals do not exist. The most expensive tickets are sold the day of and the day before a flight. In fact, anything within two weeks of departure is not going to be a good deal. Plan ahead.
  • Don’t buy tickets too early. If you’re so eager to buy your tickets as early as possible, the airline is more than happy to take your money – but they’re under no obligation to offer you competitive rates.

Your best bet is to start looking about three and a half months out. On average, tickets are cheapest 54 days before the flight, but that’s an average of a lot of data. Per CheapAir, proposed trips go through an average of 92 fare changes from the moment the flight becomes available for purchase to the moment it pulls out of the gate. You need to be willing to monitor prices for a few weeks in order to find the best possible price for your particular flight.

Fly when no one else wants to

If a flight time sounds unappealing to you, it’s probably unappealing to everyone else. FareCompare notes that the most expensive days to fly are Friday and Sunday. The cheapest are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. For maximum cheapness you need to be willing to fly at less than appealing hours as well – red eyes and early morning flights are typically cheaper.

Buy tickets one at a time

This might seem like a hassle, but according to FareCompare there’s some solid money-saving wisdom behind booking each ticket individually. The available tickets on any given flight are not all created equal. Airlines often have different prices on similar tickets. The trouble is that when you buy multiple seats, airlines are required to charge you the same amount for each ticket. So if a cheaper ticket were available, you would miss out on it because your entire party would be blocked into the more plentiful batch of expensive tickets. By buying tickets one at a time, you give yourself a shot at scoring one or more of the cheaper tickets.

Consider other airports

A flight out of one airport won’t cost the same as a flight out of another airport, even if they’re going to the same place. Some airports (especially larger ones) have more flights to certain locations – and more flights mean more supply, which often brings the cost down a bit. So if a flight out of your local airport is cost-prohibitive, consider driving or busing to a different, larger airport. Chances are good you should be able to find a cheaper flight – it’s just up to you to decide if the extra effort is worth the savings.

Once you’ve got your tickets pack light! Most flights today require separate fees for checked bags. If you pare your stuff down to carry-on size you can save some significant money.

Also, bring snacks! We used to make fun of airline food, but that was back when it came as part of your ticket. Now most airlines sell food in-flight. And buying food at the airport during your layover isn’t a great option either, as airport food usually comes with a steep mark-up. So save money and bring your own snacks.

Flying isn’t cheap, but if you put some effort into your planning, you can at least keep those prices down a bit. Be smart, check prices often, and have a safe flight!

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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