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Timing may be everything in life, especially when it comes to booking travel. One real challenge is getting the best rate when traveling alone. As the summer holidays approach in the northern hemisphere, we have sampled the best advice beyond looking for package deals that bundle airfare with hotels/tours. The 10 tips below address many popular perceptions on how to get the best rate.
1. Does it matter what day of the week you purchase your airline tickets? True.
The consensus is that Tues. and especially Wed. will be cheapest.
2. When you travel midweek, do you save on leisure/vacation routes? True.
However, standard business routes are cheaper on weekends. A good example? Representative roundtrip same day flights between Washington, DC and New York’s LaGuardia were really expensive during the work week. Saturday flights between the two cities dropped by 30-40%.
Airline prices like any other consumer purchases reflect supply and demand. Generally holiday times are the most expensive times to travel. However, if you are willing to spend a major holiday on a flight, it will likely be cheaper. One Christmas, I spent a large part of the day flying from the US to London to visit friends. The rate was better since most travelers had reached their destination but were not yet en route for New Year’s.
3. Is planning far ahead always more beneficial? False.
European expert Rick Steves and CBS travel consultant Peter Greenberg, along with others, believe that booking too far in advance does not result in the best airfares. The experts recommend booking approximately 5-7 weeks ahead when attractive rates are published. If you can find a deal that allows you to receive an adjustment if the price drops, jump on it!
4. Can last minute deals be advantageous? True.
There are experts that advocate this approach when flights do not have heavy load factors at the last minute. This could work for a short distance or a brief trip. However, for people who work, have family schedules to consider, must board pets or find last minute hotels, how practical is this?
5. Does selecting your airport carefully result in savings? True.
As a Washington, DC resident, I previously bypassed great deals at the Baltimore Washington Airport (“BWI”), opting for nearby Washington National/Reagan or Dulles. Once in the past, after driving to BWI, ironically bad weather/other delays initially placed me on a flight that would return to Washington National not Baltimore and then bus me back for an hour to my car. I was able to avoid this but decided that driving the distance or joining the commuter van at a pretty stiff price was not attractive.
Nonetheless, this Christmas en route to the Amazon, I tried again taking the local train to BWI and found it quick, inexpensive and easy to connect with a direct flight via Miami to Brazil. One real difference on pricing was not just the greater distance to the airport, but the carriers that serviced it.
6. Does booking from abroad make a difference? Sometimes true.
In a past trip to Chile, I found a very inexpensive promotional flight with the national carrier for foreign visitors/tourists. I paid ahead for an open ticket to 3 cities at minimal costs. Although it entailed flying standby, I never missed a flight and was able to make my way down to the southernmost tip of Latin America. Alternatively, some internal flights appear better sourced via strictly domestic carriers, fortunately now largely accessible via the Internet. However, when I booked Qantas domestic flights from the US, I found my credit card company diligently alerting me that someone “in Australia” appeared to be using my card!
7. Using miles always results in the best deals. False.
It is important to remember that terms and conditions apply. Accordingly, there are limited seats open for mileage rewards. Planning ahead does matter here to compete for a limited number of seats. When I booked my Australian flight months in advance, I discovered that many passengers had booked, and sought an upgrade, one year ahead. Although I was no. 7 on the Business Class wait list, after arriving at the airport, I found that others (with more miles?) advanced ahead of me. One caveat: Using miles may carry a substantial charge. On this trip, it would have cost an extra $1,000 if the upgrade had been available.
8. Is it cheaper to use regional carriers/multiple airlines/indirect routes? Generally yes since direct flights are more in demand. However, always check to see how frequent the flights are to your destination if you opt for numerous connections. I once flew from the US to Zurich only to find my connecting flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia had been cancelled. I was then flown to Germany only to arrive at the gate and find that my connecting flight had just closed and was waiting to taxi down the runway. I was then transported to Austria where I sat vigilantly in front of the departure gate for hours concerned that I would be re-routed to yet another country.
9. On long overseas flights economy is always a bad investment. False. Beyond looking for upgrades, 2-for-1 business fares/free companion tickets, I have found many economy extras are cost-effective. I flew Economy Plus all the way from the US East Coast non-stop to Beijing. I slept for at least 4 hours and arrived rested. The one limitation besides space is that individual entertainment/movie selection may not be available so bring along the novel you have been wanting to read.
Picking a seat early is key. I always pay the $50 charge where 3 seats across are set up to leave the middle seat vacant. The amount of extra space to stretch out, use the middle tray for drinks and snacks or stow carryon’s under the seat ahead is clearly worth it. This compares favorably with a front row seat I had in First Class on a domestic flight with no forward space for stowing carryon’s.
10. Consolidators and other bulk purchasers can provide savings. True. Whether for upgrades or economy tickets, the standard principle of supply and demand applies. Because consolidators deal in large numbers of travelers, they have the purchasing power that individuals lack. (We do work with consolidators so are partial to this approach.)
Lastly, the more flexible you are the more likely you can find ways to fit even long international flights into your existing budget.