request info email to friend
Flying for Less
Air fares are a travel bargain, as airlines compete for customers and the price of driving goes up. But tickets still can add up, especially if you are traveling with a family. There are several ways you can pare your fare:
Check out discount travel Web sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. This is the quickest way to get an idea of how the major airlines’ fares stack up against one another for the destination and time frame you are looking for.
Once you have identified the one or two lowest-cost airlines, go directly to the airline site. Often you can book the flight for less there, because the general travel sites include booking fees. However, some airlines charge extra if you book by phone, rather than online.
Discount airlines, such as Southwest and JetBlue, often do not appear on travel Web sites, so you might have to go directly to their sites. And although they are improving in this area, discount airlines still have less comprehensive coverage. For example, they might fly only to certain areas of the country or to smaller airports.
Whether you fly a discount airline or a mainstream one, you might be able to save money flying to a regional or smaller airport close to a major metro hub. The savings might be significant enough to make it worth your while to rent a car, especially if you were planning to do so anyway. And you might be able to avoid the crowds and hassles of a huge airport.
If you have any flexibility in your travel plans, check out midweek fares, which often are significantly lower. As a rule, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be least expensive, and Mondays and Fridays tend to be most expensive.
Consider signing up as a frequent flier, especially on airlines you use more often. It usually doesn’t cost anything, and you can choose to have email notification of special deals. Besides, you might fly enough to actually earn a free flight or upgrade.
Book early. As a rule, fares increase at 21 days out, 14 days out and seven days out. If you have to book at the last minute, you probably will pay a premium.
But check your airline’s policy on refunds if the tickets go on sale after you book. Especially in these super-competitive times, airlines regularly run sales. If you book early, find out if you can re-book at a sale price and get a refund.
Finally, be aware that the airlines have added a number of fees, most significantly fees for checked or overweight baggage. In fact, in 2008 airlines made a total of more than $1 billion in baggage fees, according to the Department of Transportation.
These fees can vary widely. For example, as of early summer 2009, United Airlines and American Airlines charged $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second. Southwest did not charge for bags until your third checked bag – which cost $50. (However, many airlines will waive or reduce fees for certain travelers, such as those who travel first class, belong to some frequent flier levels, check in online, or meet other criteria.)
Check your airline’s Web site for a detailed look at any additional fees it charges – and then try to avoid them.