Timing Your Ticket Search and Travel Dates

United airlines first class: With airline ticket prices on the rise, more and more people are looking for ways to score cheap tickets. To avoid overpaying for your tickets, start searching at least 2 months in advance, and sign up for email alerts so you’ll always be notified when flight prices drop. Budget airlines typically offer the cheapest flights. These airlines also offer heavily discounted ticket prices for red-eye flights. If you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you can save quite a bit of money on your tickets.

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Start looking for domestic tickets at least 6 weeks in advance. If you’re planning a domestic flight, it’s a good idea to start searching for tickets about a month and a half in advance. Continue checking weekly to find out if tickets get any cheaper up until the point that you make your purchase. If you’re flying internationally, start your ticket search about 20–24 weeks in advance.

  • It won’t do you much good to look for tickets more than 6 weeks (for domestic) or 24 weeks (for international) in advance since ticket prices could fluctuate widely before you actually make your purchase.
  • As a general rule of thumb, book your tickets in advance as many days ahead as you can.
  • Looking for international flights 24 weeks in advance may seem like a long time, but airlines raise their international flight prices many weeks before they raise the costs of domestic flights.
  • Note that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many airlines have eliminated their ticket reissuance fees for changing the day you’re flying. Therefore, you can feel more comfortable making plans in the future, all without incurring penalties if you do actually have to switch around dates.

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Purchase your tickets at least 2 weeks before flying. The ideal window of time to get your tickets is 2-4 weeks before you’re planning to fly. Most airlines will raise their ticket prices once fewer than 14 days remain prior to the flight. This is especially important if you’re flying during busy travel times—e.g., over spring break or before Thanksgiving—since flight prices can sometimes double or triple as the flight date approaches.

  • If you’re flying internationally, plan to start looking much farther in advance, since international flights cost more. Plan to buy tickets at least 3 months before you fly.
  • If you wait until, say, 1 week before flying, you’ll be stuck purchasing very expensive tickets, even if you’re flying on a budget airline.
  • If you forgot to purchase your tickets 2-3 weeks before the day of your flight, the next-best option is to wait to purchase tickets until less than 24 hours before your flight. Airlines will often dramatically lower ticket prices in order to fill up all of the seats on the plane. However, if you wait until the last minute, you could find out that the flight has sold out, or that the only remaining tickets are very expensive.

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Check out alternate dates to find more affordable tickets. If your travel schedule is relatively flexible and you can shift the days that your flights depart and arrive, you may be able to find cheaper flights. Compare ticket prices across a 3-4 day window using an aggregator site or airline site. If you can manage to rearrange your travel plans, select the days that offer the most discounted flights!

  • For example, say you were planning to fly out on May 1 and return on May 20 for $400 USD. If you investigate alternate dates, you may find that it costs only $325 USD to depart on May 3 and return on May 21.

Save money by taking your flight early in the morning or late at night. Most travelers prefer to fly at convenient times that don’t require them to stay up late or get up early. Because of the increased demand for flights at popular times, airlines will charge more for flight tickets at, for example, 10:00 a.m. On the other hand, red-eye flights that take off between 9:00 pm and 9:00 am will be steeply marked down in order to offset the inconvenience of traveling at these times.

  • Most aggregator and airline websites let you choose the specific times that you’d like your flight to depart.

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Schedule your departure for the middle of the week or a Saturday. Airlines generally release sales for specific routes on Monday night because they want travel agencies to catch wind of sales early in the week. Competitors match the deals on Tuesday morning, which causes airlines to lower the flight costs. So, your best shot at obtaining cheap deals is to search for flights that depart on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays. Friday and Sunday tend to be the most expensive domestic travel days, so avoid purchasing tickets for these days.

  • If you’re flying internationally, flying on a weekday is almost always cheaper than flying on the weekend.
  • Of course, this strategy isn’t 100% effective. It’s a good idea to do a cursory search for specific routes of interest on several days of the week (including weekends). That way you have an idea of how much the tickets cost and you can identify a sale when it appears.

Do your best to stay at a destination over a Saturday night. Air fares are usually priced so that business travelers are charged the most. This category of people usually aren’t staying at locations over Saturday nights.

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Search for cheap airline tickets using your browser’s incognito mode. Incognito mode keeps the websites you visit from placing cookies on your computer. If a website notices that you’ve searched for the same flight multiple times, it will often automatically raise the ticket prices. If you browse in Chrome or Safari, press Control + Shift + N to open incognito mode. If you use Firefox or Internet Explorer, press Control + Shift + P.

  • Putting your browser in Incognito mode is especially important if you search on different days of the week. Otherwise, old prices will sometimes display in lieu of new ones, and you may miss out on the best price.
  • If you’d rather not use your browser’s Incognito mode when looking for tickets, delete your cookies after each visit to a travel site.

Compare different airlines’ ticket prices with aggregator websites. Aggregator sites are a great tool to use if you’d like to shop around and compare multiple airlines against one another. Type in your departure and arrival airports and days of travel, and scroll through the different flight combinations until you find the cheapest. Many aggregate sites also have a low-fare calendar so you can see which are the cheapest days to travel in a 30-day period.

  • If you don’t mind putting in a little more work, visit the cheapest airline’s website after you’ve compared it with others on an aggregator site. Some airlines will offer special deals and discounts if you buy tickets directly from the site.
  • Popular flight aggregator sites include Priceline, Travelocity, and Expedia.

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Fly on a budget airline if you don’t mind flights without amenities. Budget airlines can afford to mark down their tickets because they don’t offer in-flight conveniences like Wi-Fi, complimentary snacks, and reclining seats. Flying on these airlines can sometimes cost less than half as much as a flight on a more luxurious provider.

  • If you’re flying with the U.S., Hawaii, and the Caribbean, check out airlines like Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit.
  • Or, if you’re flying in Europe, try booking through Norwegian Air.

Sign up for email alerts to be informed about low-fare deals. Nearly all major travel booking sites allow you to sign up for travel alerts. Simply input your home airport and destination airport and dates of travel, and the site will send you an email notification. Sign up for travel discounts at least 3-4 months in advance if you’re flying domestically. This will give you plenty of time to note trends in ticket prices and purchase when flights are cheapest.

  • If you don’t have a specific travel destination in mind, sign up for email alerts about the cheapest tickets from a particular departure airport (and any nearby airports).
  • If you have a specific destination in mind, sign up for a low-fare alert from http://yapta.com or http://airfarewatchdog.com. Sites like AirfareWatchdog also organize the best prices for flights from a particular city and to a particular city, so you can prepare a cost-effective itinerary.

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Purchase separate 1-way flights to avoid paying round-ticket prices. This is a trick used by many advanced airline sleuths. Sometimes paying for a pair of 1-way tickets adds up to less than purchasing a single round-trip ticket. So, instead of searching for round-trip tickets, search for a pair of 1-way tickets and purchase them separately. You could even fly on a different airline for each flight, depending on which airlines provide the cheapest 1-way flights.

  • For example, it may cost $300 USD to buy a round-trip ticket from Seattle to Denver. But if you buy separate 1-way tickets from Seattle to Denver and back, you might only pay $75 per ticket.

Use a credit card that offers travel rewards to earn frequent-flyer miles. Travel rewards credit cards typically offer you a certain amount of miles for every dollar that you charge to the card. If you use a credit card for most of your day-to-day purchases, using a travel card can be a great way to build up miles quickly. Then, once you’ve built up enough miles to cover your round-trip ticket, you can take the trip for free.

  • Compare various travel credit cards to find the one that suits you best. For example, not all cards are compatible with all major airlines, and some cards may charge larger annual fees than others.
  • You can also get credit cards through many major airlines. These cards typically give you thousands of frequent-flyer miles when you activate them and continue to accumulate miles when you make purchases on the card.

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Use your frequent-flyer miles to get free flights. Nearly all airlines offer frequent-flyer miles to anyone who flies with them. If you use 1 airline more frequently than any others, sign up online for their miles program. You’ll have to pay for several flights to build up enough miles, but once you’ve built up 20,000–40,000 miles, you’ll have enough to get round-trip domestic tickets for free!

  • You can sign up for any airline’s frequent-flyer program online. Input your name, address, credit card information, and address. The airline will assign you a frequent-flyer number that you can use to login to your account and cash in your accumulated miles.

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More tips

  • You may be able to save money on international flights if you shop as though you are from another country. For example, let’s say you are an American and you want to fly from Bangkok, Thailand to Vancouver, Canada. Your best bet will be to search for prices in Thailand instead of in the U.S.

  • If you’re traveling around a major holiday, be aware that it’s generally cheaper to fly on the holiday itself. People generally want to relax on holidays and not deal with the hassles of air travel. So, tickets are typically cheaper on the holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Labor Day.

  • Airlines typically don’t offer upgrades if you bought the cheapest fare listed. If you’d like the opportunity to be offered upgrades, your best bet is to contact the carrier or a travel agent and ask about fares that are upgradeable.

  • If you prefer flying first class, you can save money by purchasing a business class ticket instead if available. Both first-class and business class sit in the same front section, eat the same meals and are treated exactly the same, yet business class is often half the fare of first-class!

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