More often than not, the person sitting next to you on a plane or sleeping in the next hotel room has paid more or less than you did for the same services. Each day, airlines quote more than several hundred fares for flights between the same two cities and hotels charge different rates for the same room. So how do you find the best rates? Here are some tips:
- Avoid traveling around the holidays. Most airlines have "blackout days" around popular holidays, when fares are more expensive and passengers cannot use frequent flyer miles. However, flying on the day of the actual holiday (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day) generally means low airfares and plenty of seats.
- Sign up for fare special e-mails. When airlines get into a fare war, the cost of a plane ticket can fall overnight and the discounted fare may be sold out by noon the next day. Get on the mailing list of airlines and other travel Web sites so you can be notified immediately if fares drop.
- Look into booking your vacation as a package. You might be able to save by booking your airline tickets along with your hotel room or rental car.
- Buy your tickets at least 21 days in advance. There are usually four different timetables for advance purchase: 21-day, 14-day, 7-day, and 3-day. The further in advance you book your flight, the lower the fare you're likely to find.
- Keep your airline options open. Use a travel Web site to search for fares instead of the individual airline sites, and choose "none" as a carrier preference.
- Consider another airport. Find out about all the airports that are near your destination city. You might be able to fly into a smaller airport or neighboring city at a much lower rate.
- Stay over a Saturday night. Airlines quote the highest fares to business travelers, who fly during the week and spend their weekends at home. If you plan to leave for your trip on a Wednesday and return on Saturday, your fare would be considerably higher than if you extended your trip to Sunday morning.
- Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Some airlines offer cheaper fares on specific days of the week. Generally, it's cheapest to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Remember, though, that a Saturday stay is necessary to receive the lowest rate.
- Be flexible about the time of day you travel. If possible, let the fares dictate the day and time of your departure. Often the less popular early morning or late evening flights have lower rates.
- Pick a flight with plenty of open seats. Seats in a flight are divided into "classes," and each class has its own price. Since the cheapest classes sell first, the fewer seats that are left on a plane, the more expensive they are.
- Sign up for a frequent flyer program. If you are a frequent traveler, it may make more sense for you to fly consistently with the same airline and accumulate frequent flyer miles, rather than base your criteria strictly on which carrier has the lowest fare for a particular destination.