Airfare Shopping Tips

If you’re someone who loves to travel, it’s likely you have purchased airline tickets at some point in your travel experiences.  There was a time, not so long ago, when you would contact a travel agent to purchase airline tickets.  It was up to the travel agent to get you the best deal.

Today, you can still contact a travel agent if you want to buy airline tickets.  But, if you’re like me, you may prefer to be your own travel agent.  There are many resources on the Internet that can help you get the best airfare deals.

It’s never too early to start shopping.

There was only one time in my travel experiences that I purchased airline tickets less than 7 days before I planned to travel.  That was an unusual situation because I had to be some place on short notice.  The price I paid for a round-trip ticket was significantly higher than what I would have paid had I not needed to travel so soon.  Airlines take advantage of travelers who need to travel on short notice.  The best thing you can do is to start shopping as soon as you know you’re going somewhere.

Most airlines will allow you to make reservations up to 331 days in advance.  This includes the major air carriers, such as American, United, Delta, etc.  You will find the advance purchase period is less for some of the budget airlines, such as Jet Blue or Allegiant.  When you price your itinerary, you must remember that the date of your return for a round-trip itinerary is what you use to calculate the 331 days.  You could pick your outbound flight within the 331 days, but if the return flight is outside of that range, your search will fail.

The day of the week on which you travel makes a difference.

It is possible to start shopping before the purchase window opens.  As soon as I have a travel itinerary planned, I will start pricing flights and I use dates at the limit of the 331 day period.  When you do this, make sure you pick dates that are on days of the week that match your intended itinerary.

Airfare prices vary depending on what day of the week you fly, so unless you use the same weekdays, your preliminary prices won’t give you an accurate picture.  Many web sites offer the option to look at a range of days to find the least expensive day to travel.  In general, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.  If you start shopping for airfare far enough in advance, you might be able to adjust your itinerary to match the flying days with the lowest costs.

No specific travel days in mind.

If you’re considering a trip, but when you go isn’t important, try web sites like FareCompare.com.  They have options for subscribing to watch different itineraries.  If a low fare happens, maybe you can take advantage of it.

Flying non-stop is not always the way to go.

I learned something during the planning for a trip to Hawaii.  I began looking at flights from Los Angeles to Kona on the big island of Hawaii.  I found something that seemed really odd at the time.  A non-stop flight on American Airlines from Los Angeles to Kona was showing at a little over $700 per person, round-trip.  I did another search going out of San Jose, CA on American.  The proposed itinerary went from San Jose to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Kona.   The flight between Los Angeles and Kona was the same flight I had found when I did the search for the non-stop flights.  But this flight itinerary with 3 stops was about $500 per person, round-trip.

I called American Airlines and spoke to one of their agents.  When I asked about the lower price for traveling a farther distance, I got this response.  The agent told me that non-stop is nearly always more expensive because most people prefer to fly non-stop.  So, the airline figures they can get more money from the people who will only fly non-stop.  If you’re really flying on a budget, don’t overlook the flights with several connections.

Make sure you have time to connect.

Something that travel agents are supposed to do is make sure you have enough time to make a connection in a flight itinerary.  When you’re acting as your own travel agent, you have to make sure the itinerary you book gives you enough time to make connections.

One would think that airfare booking systems would be programmed to allow the proper amount of connection time between flights.  I think they are programmed as such, but I think the margin they allow is too narrow.  I’ve run itineraries that had connection times of as little as 30 minutes.

When I’m flying domestically, I like connection times of at least 1 hour.  If I’m flying through an airport in another country, 2 hours is my minimum comfort level.  You need to take into consideration the airport you are connecting through and how much time you’ll need to make it to your next flight.

On a trip through Frankfurt Airport, I had an outbound connection time of 1 hour 40 minutes.  Since it was less than 2 hours, I was a little uncomfortable.  But the way the itinerary worked, I didn’t really have any other option.  As it turned out, I had plenty of time to make the connection, primarily due to the fact that the first leg flight was on time.  Having a decent amount of time between connections really helps if one of your flights is delayed.

Where to shop for flights.

You have several options on the Internet for airfare shopping.  You can use the web site of individual airlines, you can use travel sites like Expedia and Priceline, and you can use airfare search engines, such as Kayak.com.  My first stop for airfare searches is ITA Software Airfare Matrix Search.  I have found that this is the best site to give you an idea of where to look for the best itinerary and the best price.  They also have apps in the App Store on iTunes for the iPhone or iPad, and on Google Play for android phones and tablets.

When I’ve located an itinerary that looks good on ITA, then I go to the individual airline web site and run the same itinerary to see what comes up.  My preference is to book directly with the airline on which I will be flying.

Occasionally, you can find better deals on the travel web sites like Expedia.  My problem with travel sites is that I don’t like having a middleman when it comes to airline reservations.  If something goes wrong with the itinerary, it’s too easy for the different companies to point fingers blaming each other while you’re stuck in the middle.  What little I might save by booking through the travel sites isn’t worth the possibility of trouble, especially on an international trip or a trip that is really important.

Airfare search engines do not cover all airlines.  If you’re traveling domestically, you might want to check some of the budget carriers directly on their web sites.  Check the airports you will be traveling through to see what airlines provide service.

Make sure the itinerary is right before you book.

The one thing you have to consider when booking airline tickets yourself, if you’re choosing the lowest fare for a flight, is that you can’t get your money back if you decide not to go.  Airline tickets at the lowest possible fare are almost always non-refundable.

Be very careful about the possibility of having to change your tickets to different flights.  Airlines usually charge fees to change tickets in the neighborhood of $150 per ticket.  If you book flights and then have to go back and change the itinerary, you’ve lost whatever price benefit you had by shopping and buying the tickets yourself.

If your tickets cost several hundred dollars, you might consider getting travel insurance.  If my trip costs more than $1,000.00, I purchase trip insurance.  I never purchase insurance through the company I’m traveling with.  I use an independent company that specializes in trip insurance because their insurance premiums are almost always lower than the travel carrier’s.

I get a lot of satisfaction being my own travel agent.  Besides, I’ve always found that planning a trip is part of the enjoyment of travel.  This way I can start enjoying a trip before departure day arrives.

One thought on “Airfare Shopping Tips

  1. Great Advice!

    One more thing I would recommend also (from my experience) is sometimes purchasing a one-way ticket into an area, traveling around (by bus, car, charter, etc) and then a one-way ticket out of another area, is far cheaper than just a round-trip.
    Last year I did a tour of SE Asia and found a one-way ticket to Vietnam for $400, use the public bus system from there into Cambodia ($10), then into Thailand ($6). Then hopped a local flight (Air Asia) to Indonesia (for around $30 paying with Baht instead of dollars). My one-way ticket back to the states from Indonesia was about $600. All total traveling costs were less than $1100 which was far cheaper (and I got to see more of what SE Asia had to offer) than just a round trip ticket to any of those places alone.

    (I also recommend World Nomads (http://www.worldnomads.com/) for trip insurance, they are awesome!)

    xoxo
    Rae
    http://www.beginanadventure.com

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