Traveling is one of the most important and rewarding experiences in life. And while it’s certainly not cheap (we’re talking about airfare, hotels, transportation, etc.), it’s an investment that’s definitely worth making. But there’s one thing that can help make traveling a little easier: cheap flights.
According to the annual CheapAir study, fares change roughly 49 times by an average of $98 (up from $43 in 2023) each time after the planned flight is announced.
So, whether you’re booking a flight way far out or taking a last-minute vacation, these are some easy ways to save money before planning your next getaway:
1. Book Your Flight at Least 42 Days Before Departure
This one may seem obvious, but the earlier you book your flight, the better the rate and the better the choices you’ll have. However, booking too far out, say seven to 10 months early, costs you more but the flight choices are yours for the taking.
The CheapAir 2024 Annual Airfare Study recommends booking your flight during the Prime Booking Window for the cheapest prices: 21 to 74 in advance of your planned trip, with the very best day being 42 days out. CheapAir says, “In 2024, travelers can wait about a month more to get a cheap flight compared to years prior. That’s a lot closer to your travel date than we usually see.” In 2023, that window was 46 to 164 days in advance of your planned trip. That’s earlier than the minimum of 76 days in 2022 and 64 days in 2021. Airlines start increasing their fares around the 45-day mark.
If you want some choices, like seat choice and specific flight times, you should book your flight around 75 to 205 days before your trip. In 2023, it was 165 to 211 days in advance, which was a bit later than in 2022 at 128 to 202 days and 96 to 201 days in 2021. So, file that away in your memory bank next time you’re planning a trip.
2. Plan Your Trip During Off-Peak Travel Times
Plan to travel during the months of January and February for the lowest airfare rates all year. And if you depart on a Tuesday or Wednesday, that’s even better.
If you want one true insider’s tip from this report, let it be this. Midweek flights (Tuesday and Wednesday) almost always offer the best value. Traveling midweek should always be a consideration for the budget shopper.
CheapAir, 2023 Annual Airfare Study
According to CheapAir, it’s less important when you book your flight as it is the day of the week you’re traveling. Like in 2023, the cheapest day of the week to fly is still Wednesday, which saves you almost $102 compared to the most expensive day of the week to fly — Sunday. Tuesday comes in as the second cheapest day to fly for an average savings of $99.
Holiday travel times see the highest spikes in airfare, with November being the most expensive month to travel all year. In 2023, that month was December. July is the second most expensive time to travel, with June and October coming in a close third and fourth, respectively.
The cheapest month to fly is January, when you’ll save about $125 compared to November. You’ll find cheaper flights in April and May if you want to get in a quick vacation before the end of the school year compared to during the summer. If you can hold off flying during the off-peak times of the year, you’ll save the most.
CheapAir has a nifty guide for how many days out you should book your flight to save the most money, depending on the season you’re planning to travel.
3. Use Flexible Travel Dates
If you have some flexibility, red-eye flights, flights with layovers and offseason flights are usually the cheapest. Sites like Skyscanner and Kayak let you explore prices for round-trip flights from your departure city to destinations around the world. Kayak even offers the option to filter destinations by activity or type, like skiing, wine regions, family-friendly destinations and more.
4. Check for Extra Airline Fees Before You Commit
Although there are some fees you can’t control, including fuel costs, airport taxes and maintenance costs, there are plenty that you can. Checked bag fees vary from one airline to another. If a flight price is similar between one or two airlines, check out the fees that come along with buying a seat. That might tip the scale when choosing. Be mindful of baggage weight and limits and pack as light as possible to avoid overcharges.
5. Look for Airlines Where Kids Fly Free or at a Discounted Rate
If you’re traveling with kids, some airlines won’t charge for their seats. For example, Frontier Airlines lets kids under 15 fly for free on qualifying flights with an adult who is in the Discount Den program. The annual membership costs $59.99 for one year and new members pay $99.99 for their first year, which includes a $40 enrollment fee.
Most airlines, including Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, allow kids under the age of 2 to fly for free, provided they aren’t occupying a seat, or offer discounted rates.
6. Set a Price Alert to Snag Cheaper Airfare
Deal sites like Google Flights, Going.com, Kayak and Hopper offer the option to watch the flights you’re interested in and send updates if prices fluctuate. Most sites also have calendar views, date grids or price graphs that map out the cheapest days to fly.
7. Follow Your Favorite Airline on Social Media
Nowadays, airlines are heavy social media users. They use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reach and engage with their customers.
From customer complaints to tooting their own horns, airlines are using social media for several reasons, including promoting new deals and savings alerts to their followers. It’s also worth following pages like The Flight Deal on Facebook and Secret Flying on Twitter for hot travel deals around the world.
These are the most popular airlines to follow on Twitter:
- British Airways
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airline
- United Airlines
8. Search for Travel Coupons and Last-Minute Deals
Search the RetailMeNot travel section for thousands of available travel deals updated daily. You might even earn RetailMeNot Cash Back for your vacation. Plus, most airlines have a dedicated page for their current deals and promos.
If you’re interested in international travel, try signing up for a service like Next Vacay. It delivers the cheapest direct flight (and sometimes one-stop flights) deals from your home airport to your preferred destinations. There is a $25 annual fee, but the first month is free, and there’s a six-month money-back guarantee if you don’t like the service.
9. Consider Flying a Budget Airline
Budget airlines offer cost-effective, no-frills options to travelers. For example, you can get a cheap international flight through BudgetAir. They also offer other ways to save, including the option of landing at a different airport than the one you ultimately depart from, also known as the open-jaw itinerary. You can get a cheap domestic flight through Allegiant Air and then pay for your carry-on baggage or up to four checked bags.
10. Watch for Flash Deals and Promotions
If you have a flexible schedule and multiple destinations in mind, keep your eyes peeled for airline flash sales. Airlines like Southwest, JetBlue and Frontier Airlines run flash sales between certain cities and during specific time frames, allowing you to book airfare for a fraction of the cost.
For example, United Airlines is currently offering a minimum 5% discount on flights to MileagePlus members who are 18 to 22 years old until Sept. 30.
11. Shop for Travel Package Deals
Booking a flight and hotel together on sites like Expedia, Booking.com and Southwest Vacations can save you hundreds of dollars on your vacation. Expedia even offers the option to bundle in a hotel until your trip starts with “Expedia Add-On Advantage,” so you can take your time finding the best accommodations while getting a great deal.
12. Get a Travel Reward Credit Card
Nowadays, pretty much every airline has its own credit card — including the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card, JetBlue Card, the United Explorer Card and American Airlines Advantage — where you can earn points on purchases to redeem for flights, gift cards and more.
Most award bonus points after you spend a certain amount within the first few months — enough to land you a free flight. You’ll also benefit from travel perks like discounts on in-flight purchases, priority boarding, travel and purchase coverage, no foreign transaction fees, a free checked bag and more.
13. Enroll in Airline Frequent Flyer Programs
Don’t forget to enroll in frequent flyer programs at your favorite airline. It’s free, and even if you don’t often fly on one particular carrier, most airlines are part of a larger group (Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam) where your frequent flyer points are shareable. The American Airlines Advantage program is one of the best loyalty programs around.
14. Watch for Price Drops After Booking Your Flight
After you purchase your airline ticket, websites like Orbitz will refund the difference in price if you find a cheaper rate on another site. So, once you buy, monitor the price of your flight. JetBlue offers the Best Fare Guarantee for airfare prices that are over $5 lower than the price you paid. You’ll receive a $50 credit if you contact them on the same day as your booking.
15. Lock in Rates With a 24-Hour Reservation Hold
Thanks to the Department of Transportation (DOT), all U.S. and foreign air carriers must comply with the customer service rule that requires them “to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty.” Some airlines offer even longer holds, but do charge a nonrefundable fee.
- United Airlines has a 24-hour flexible booking policy, and with FareLock, you can hold qualifying flights for three, seven or 14 days at a reserved rate. The airline has done away with change fees on qualifying flights, allowing for more flexibility for travelers.
- The Air France Time to Think guarantees your booking and rate for up to three days.
- American Airlines will hold your reservation for 24 hours and will give you the option to extend your hold on select flights.
- Spirit Airlines lets you cancel your flight for free if it’s over 60 days from your travel date or within 24 hours for flights that are seven or more days away.
- Emirates Hold My Fare lets you reserve a flight for 72 hours for free.
16. Join AARP Regardless of Your Age
People of any age can join the AARP, although only those 50 and over have access to a full AARP membership. Members under 50 have access to benefits that aren’t restricted by vendor offer requirements. Benefits include up to $200 off per person with select airlines, including American, British Airways, United and JetBlue. Go to the AAPR Travel Center to find out more.
17. Get Paid for Flight Delays
The DOT’s Airline Cancellation and Delay Dashboard is a nifty way to find out whether an airline provides an alternative to its customers due to delays within the airline’s control. JetBlue Airways is one airline that offers different compensation credits for departure delays and flight cancellations with up to a $250 credit, depending on the length of the delay, and overbooked passengers who are bumped involuntarily receive $1,550. Check your airline to find out whether they have a similar policy for compensation.
18. Consider Shipping Checked Bags to Your Destination
Clearly, you can’t really go anywhere for an extended period of time without taking some sort of bag with you, whether it’s a carry-on or a checked bag. Some airlines let you check your first bag for fees, while others charge an additional fee. Depending on how long you’ll be traveling, where you’re going and what you’re taking along with you, it might be cheaper to ship your luggage to your destination. Not only are you saving the headache of lugging around your belongings from one side of the airport to the other, but you might also save money in the process.
TripAdvisor has a handy list of airline baggage fees with most starting around $30 one way. LugLess, The UPS Store, FedEx and Sendmybag.com offer options to ship your luggage to your destination, and this includes other items like golf clubs, skis, snowboards, etc. Depending on the weight and type of items you’re taking with you, it might be more cost-efficient to ship them rather than check them at the airport.
19. Fly Into an International Airport With Free Stopover Tours
When you have hours or even days to spare, consider booking a stopover tour during your international or nationwide travel. Some airports have free tours while others charge a fee for travelers looking to get the most out of their excursions by exploring cities you might not otherwise have to opportunity to do.
The Abu Dhabi airport offers Stopover Tours when you have anywhere from three to 12 hours to kill, including the Abu Dhabi Ferrari Theme Park. The Incheon Airport in South Korea has free attractions and free or discounted transit tours to Tongin Market and Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Or, add a free stopover in Lisbon or Porto with Portugal Stopover for outbound or return trips. Although not specifically part of the LAX airport, LA City Tours offers tourists who have an extra six to eight hours to spare quick Layover Tours of popular attractions, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theater.
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