We all know that air travel is the most common form of transportation for vacations in America. Typically, booking a plane ticket is the first important step in vacation planning. However, finding the best prices for the tickets can be tricky.

This article is part of a series that highlights the best strategies to find the cheapest tickets. While this blog covers beginner level strategies, the next one will include some seriously advanced hacks. For now, let’s get started with this beginner guide!

Set a Price Alert

The first task on your planning list should be to set a price alert for your tentative dates. Even if you have 10 potential dates, track the prices for all of them.

I suggest using Google Flights as it allows users to set different types of trackers. You can track flights on a particular date, a specific flight at a specific time, different combinations of departure and return legs, and so on. Hopper is also an excellent app that allows actionable tracking. I’ll explain in the next section what I mean by that.

#TravelSmart Tip

Track prices for one way flights to get more insight into the price movement. Return tickets for domestic flights aren’t discounted and in some cases are actually priced higher (will write more about it in the next blog of this series).

Book ‘Just in Time’

The earliest you book, the cheapest your ticket will be. That’s FALSE! Instead, book just in time. This time varies depending on the destination, airline, travel season, and a few other factors.

As a ballpark, six to eight weeks before the departure is when airlines slash their prices the lowest. If you don’t believe me, check out this study conducted by CheapAir.com that says 54 days on an average is the best time to book.

Use apps that recommend that ‘just in time’. Hopper does a good job of aggregating past data to suggest the best time to buy. Google Flights recently rolled out a price meter indicating if the current price is cheap, typical, or high.

Keep in mind that while this rule applies most of the time, rates during the holiday season follow rules of their own. If you plan to travel during Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, etc., it is best to book at least three months out.

Find Alternative Airports Nearby

It pays off to look at alternative airports close to your destination. Take for instance MIA and FLL, or DCA and IAD which are only 30 miles away from each other. Even then, the price difference is as much as $100 for the flights. If you’re planning to rent a car, an additional 30 minutes to drive won’t be a big deal.

#TravelSmart Tip

Check out this exhaustive list curated by Johnny Jet that lists all the alternate airports in America.

Fly Mid-week - Tuesday or Wednesday

Most of the tourists fly out over the weekend. That’s why airlines sell mid-week flights for cheap to attract more customers.

An added advantage of this tip is that you’ll find fewer crowds in the security line, at the gates and on the plane making your travel smoother.

Fly Early Mornings or Late Night

These two timings offer drastically cheaper flights. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and hence carriers price them low to target budget travelers.

An early morning flight allows you to start the day early at the destination and a late night return means you get more time to spend on the last day.

Note that I do not recommend you to do this for a long distance flight especially if it’s coast to coast. An overnight flight, also known as a red-eye flight, is not worth the savings if you can’t keep your eyes open at work the next day.

Be Less Fussy and Fly with Budget Carriers

Over the last few years, several budget carriers have entered the airline market operating with an ala carte model. They offer a flight ticket that includes only basic features:

  1. A small seat allocated randomly that does not recline and has limited leg space
  2. Baggage allowance of only one personal item such as a backpack

You pay a fee for anything additional such as:

  1. Seat selection in advance
  2. Wider seat with more leg space
  3. Carry-on and check-in bags
  4. Snacks, beverages, and water
  5. Check in at the airport

If your travel plans require nothing from the above list, budget carriers are for you. While science suggests that a relaxing vacation should be 8 days long, people who love to explore more often tend to go for frequent 3 to 4 days getaways. At those times, a backpack is quite enough to pack your stuff and hence, budget airlines save a lot of money annually.

Create a Free Frequent Flyer Account to Earn Miles

Sign up for a free account with every airline ticket you buy. Don’t check out as a guest and give up on the miles you’ll earn from that flight. In case you plan to travel more with them in the future, these miles will add up and give you awesome perks.

Typically, when you have enough miles on your account, you can redeem them for a highly discounted airline ticket. Additionally, you can also buy gift cards, upgrade seats, pay baggage fees and more, depending on the airline’s loyalty program.

Buy a Membership Plan if you travel often with one Airline

Once you observe that you travel frequently with a particular airline, find ways to maximize your savings with any plans they have to offer.

Spirit and Frontier offer an annual membership called 9 Fare Club and Discount Den respectively that provide discounts on flight fares, items of baggage, seats, etc. You absorb the fee after two to three flights.

These airlines along with JetBlue, United, Delta, and many more also offer credit cards or tie up with other credit cards to give more perks and points.

As I said earlier, enroll in such paid programs only if you think you’ll be traveling more and more with the chosen airline.

Sign up for Email Specials

Airline emails are spam most of the time. But if you fly frequently, subscribing to emails that highlight timely deals is a smart tactic.

These deals come in different forms such as coupon codes, discounts on specific routes, discounts on special days, all-inclusive vacation packages, etc.

Worst case it’ll occupy some bytes in your inbox and best case, you’ll find sweet deals for your next vacation.

So, how did you find this beginner lesson? More dope advanced tricks are on the way in the next blog. Until then, let me know if these tips help you save monies on your next flight.