Here’s How to Save Money on Your Next Airline Ticket

There’s a lot of advice about how to get the cheapest airline tickets out there. Most of it is wrong. Here’s my list, all of which is right although not every one of the 10 tips will be useful for every single trip.

Here are 10 important ways to save money on airfare:

  1. There’s no magic bullet day of week to book, but there are general rules for how far in advance to book. In general you should buy domestic flights 1 to 3 months out and international trips a little farther in advance, of course only if your plans are truly firm. The cheapest fares for holiday travel get booked early. Weekends aren’t really cheaper days to buy tickets and neither are Wednesdays at 1am.

  2. Know what tickets usually cost for your route. If prices are below that — buy. If prices are higher than usual you probably want to wait, especially if you’re still more than a month away from travel.

  3. Start considering purchasing when your plans are firm. Don’t purchase earlier because $200 (or higher) change fees will eat you alive. Don’t start later because of rising prices for close-in departures. Don’t stress about the deal you could have gotten. . Pounce when the deal is good enough.

  4. Comparison shop at Kayak.com or Hipmunk.com, sites that do the work of checking other airfare sites for you. If you really want to watch for sales, follow TheFlightDeal.com

  5. Learn airfare routing rules and how to search for discount inventory, and then piece together actual flights that have the lowest inventory buckets available.

  6. Throwaway ticketing can save you money. Buy a ticket that connects in the city you want to travel to, and toss the segment to the cheaper destination.

    Only do this with one-way tickets or only the last segment of a roundtrip, because skipping a flight will cause the rest of your trip to cancel. You may want to be super cautious and not enter your frequent flyer number into the reservation (or use a frequent flyer number of a partner airline) since it does violate airline rules to do this. And don’t check bags, or your bags will go to the city you’re ticketed to.

    Too sketchy? This has been recommended by Nate Silver in the New York Times, and the Times’ magazine The Ethicist column dubs it perfectly fine.

  7. Learn how to drop fuel surcharges from international tickets. Unfortunately not as easy as it used to be.

  8. If you’re buying tickets for travel outside the U.S., consider buying your tickets in the country you’re traveling from. You don’t even necessarily have to leave your desk to do it. There are fewer fares that require a local point of sale to get the cheapest prices than there used to be, be many Southeast Asian carriers only sell their cheap fares locally – and on their own website – but not through other online booking agencies.

  9. Buy one seat at a time even if you’re traveling as a pair. That does put you on separate reservations. But at a minimum search airfare for 1 passenger first rather than two or more. If you search for 2 or more seats you’ll only be presented with fares that are availale for that many passengers. There could be only 1 deep discount fare left, and the airline won’t sell it to you if you search for more than 1 passenger. So buy 1 discount fare and 1 higher priced fare. It’s cheaper than buying 2 higher fares. (You may also be able to simultaneously buy one ticket at that lower price with different browsers from more than one booking site.)

  10. Take advantage of a fare war, even if it starts in another city and buy tickets to and from that city. Compare the total cost to buying a single ticket from your home market.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. As with anything that requires learning, it’s not the advice people “want”, but it’s the advice people need if they ever want to make a habit of consistently traveling on great fares. Excellent post as always Gary.

  2. @ Gary — Your advice in #9 might could be tweaked a bit. When determining what flights to book, I always search for one seat even when traveling with my partner. However, once I identify the fare I want to book, I search for two people and if the price comes out the same, I book us on the same record locator. There is an exception — if we are going to be waiting for complimentary elite upgrades, I always book mine first and then his on a separate record. 😉 That’s a perk of doing all of our bookings!

  3. Maybe this doesn’t relate to buying airfare, but I’ve heard that websites remember your searches, and will raise the prices on you if you search the same itinerary multiple times? Other than searching incognito, is there a workaround for this, or is this a fiction?

  4. @Gene no question that once you add uprades into it that adds a complication, these are basic principles about saving without elite strategy

  5. An exception to #3 would be Southwest flights. With no change fees you should buy a low fare even if your plans aren’t quite 100% firm.

  6. Gary-
    Thanks for the post. It served me as a reminder.
    I booked PHL to FLL on B6 on Wednesday Morning via priceline for $110.
    When I saw this post it reminded me to recheck award and revenue inventories. To my delight WN put a $54 fare back into their inventory!
    Once again, thanks mate!

  7. Domestic flights on Ethiopian Airlines are less than half the price if you buy them at the counter at Addis Ababa airport upon arrival.

  8. Hi, what do you do if you book one person on a flight than you go back to add another person to the flight and it’s totally gone. (different routes)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *