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Monday, May 20, 2013

Purchasing Airfare--And Getting The Best Deal

Flying on our last trip
What cost us $660 when we bought it and is now $1,404?  No, not stock in Apple.  Airfare!  When we planned our upcoming trip and purchased airfare, round trip tickets for nonstop flights were $220 per person or $110 per “leg” of the trip.  If we were to purchase those exact same tickets today, the cost would be $468 per person or more than $700 more!

Buying airfare can be tricky.  And, even after dozens of flights, I still find myself double guessing and not trusting my instincts.  Very seldom though, have my instincts been wrong.  Here are some things we have learned about purchasing airfare:

  • It helps to know what a “good price” is for air, just like you would know what a good price is on any other purchase such as an appliance or something at the grocery store.  Message boards can help you as well traveled folks often post their “good deals.”
  • Let technology help you, along with a great travel agent.  We use Kayak and Airfare Watchdog to keep track of flight prices for us, setting notifications for weekly updates if we are a ways away from our trip and then changing them to daily when we are considering making a purchase.  Remember that Kayak.com does search major carriers, but discount carriers such as Southwest and Allegiant are not featured on their site, so you have to go to those airline web-sites directly.  (Southwest’s DING app can help though)
  • Major carriers release dates 335 days prior to flying while discount carriers release flights 6-9 months ahead.  So best deals can be found within that 6-9 month window typically as major carriers will adjust their prices when the discount carriers release theirs if they are in a competing market.
  • A caution to the previous bullet—the fares for discount carriers may not be the best when they are first released.  They know folks are waiting for them and the prices can be higher the first week or so of released fares—waiting may get you savings.  A caveat to this is around the holidays or other peak travel times.  For example, newly released flights for a Saturday before a holiday could be sold out before the price gets reduced.
  • If your travel dates are flexible, week-day flights are typically less than week-ends.  Play with your dates to find the best air deal.
  • Airfares are typically less when shopping on a Tuesday or Wednesday.  True.  It has to do with when airlines check the status of their flights and reconfigure rates, publicize them, etc.  So when you are tempted to book that getaway on a Friday, stop yourself and check the following Tuesday.  Patience may pay off!
  • You don’t have to book a round trip.  Flyers can purchase “legs” of their trips using different carriers for the best deals.  For example, if United had the best flight times and prices for the outgoing leg of a trip but Southwest had the best return times and flight fares, then take advantage and purchase separately.

When we made our airfare purchase for our upcoming trip, we only purchased one “leg” of the trip. . . the outbound flight.  The price was right, we had the money, and we were willing to make the gamble about the return flight.  The husband was nervous for a while thinking we might have to hitchhike home.  Sure enough, our gamble paid off, as flight prices for the return flight went down and we pounced.  It was a relief.

Purchasing airfare is a major portion of any trip budget and it can be nerve racking to find and pounce on the best deal.  I work in tandem with our travel agent; both of us checking to find a great price and flight times and dates that work the best.  But when you get a great deal, you know it!

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