Here are 10 ways to save on airfares:
1. There’s no “magic” day or time to buy the best airfare.
A lot of airfare experts think they’re clairvoyant, so they know where airfares are headed or how far in advance you should start looking for a fare. The latest myth is to buy exactly 54 days in advance. Others say buy on Tuesday at 3 p.m. or Wednesday at midnight or when the moon is full (just kidding).
But airlines are unpredictable, and anyone who claims he or she knows that airfares will be lower or higher in the coming months or the coming days should trade in their crystal ball.
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No one can accurately predict where airfares are heading, any more than we can predict the stock market. Think about it: If they really knew, they’d put every other airfare-search operation out of business, and that hasn’t happened.
2. So search often and pounce when there’s a deal
Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently. Or someone might be holding the only seat at the lowest fare and not book it, so it goes back into inventory — and then it will be yours.
So if you don’t like the fare at 10 a.m., check at 2 p.m. or the next day or the next week and pounce when the fare is affordable. It’s easy to leave open the browser page where you’re searching for a fare and keep on hitting the refresh.
3. Get airfare alerts
This is perhaps the easiest way to track airfares. Many travel websites offer emailed airfare alerts, letting you know when fares go down, and they all have something to offer.. Do a browser search for “airfare alerts” and you’ll see what’s available.
One thing to note: These sites use essentially the same airfare data provided by the airlines’ computer systems or ITA Software (which is now owned by Google), so they won’t include discounted promo-code fares, and they don’t include Southwest Airlines which often has some low fares.
4. Sign up for the airlines’ email feeds, watch Twitter
Speaking of promo codes, the airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so they may send you special deals, such as 50 percent off promo codes or twofers, if you sign up for their emails. Watch Twitter, too, for airlines’ short-lived sales. And @airfarewatchdog tweets unusual airfare deals.
5. Be flexible on dates
If you don’t care when you go as long as the fare is low, try a flexible-date search although it’s harder to search that way since many sites (Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity and Expedia among them) have eliminated flexible date calendars.
6. Search airline sites and online- travel agencies
Many airlines have “private” sales, reserving their very best fares for their own websites. These are different from promo-code sales mentioned above. International airlines such as Aer Lingus, Iberia and Qantas regularly offer lower fares (i.e., $100-$400 less) on their own websites compared to what you’ll find on Kayak or Orbitz. Yet you shouldn’t ignore online-travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity, because these sites will tell you if it’s cheaper flying out on one airline and back on another
7. Use Priceline for last-minute trips
If you don’t have a seven-, 14-, or 21-day advance-purchase window to buy your fare, your best bet is the “name your own price” feature of Priceline.com. You won’t know the exact flight times or airline you’re flying until to pay for your trip.
8. Get two separate fares
If you’re flying to a destination in Europe, you might save money by purchasing one fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, and another from Dublin onward on budget carriers such as Ryanair.com (just beware of Ryanair’s hefty fees). Same holds true for some destinations in Asia (fly into Singapore and use a low-cost carrier such as Airasia.com
9. Use alternate airports
Heading to Tokyo? Search for flights to Tokyo Haneda Airport, as well as to the better-known Narita. Little Rock might be a better choice than Memphis or vice versa. And shop around Southern California airports.
10. Use an airline that will refund the difference if a fare goes down
Let’s say you’ve found the lowest fare, and then the day after purchase your nonrefundable fare for the same itinerary goes down. If you ask for it you can get a refund for the difference. But some airlines will charge you a costly “administrative” fee of $200 or more, wiping out any savings. Others will give you the entire fare difference in the form of a travel voucher without extracting a fee. All airlines used to do this but no longer. The only ones left are JetBlue, Southwest and Alaska.