1. Be patient. It takes effort to get a good price on air travel. Now don't let that deter you because saving $ 100 + on flights can mean having more money to spend on sightseeing, hotel, dining out, trips, etc. This means if you want to travel in the spring, start checking prices in late fall or winter. Sometimes there are last minute deals, but more often you find the best deals at least 21 days before your departure date.
First thing in the morning (around 9am and in the evening after 6pm) I like to browse travel websites to see if there are offers being offered that day. I also want to delete my browser history and cookies because travel websites and airlines sometimes remember your search and this can cause prices to actually rise.
My favorite site is Skyscanner. One of the great features of this site is that you can check to see what the best price of the day is for traveling around the world from the airport you prefer. For example, I live in Toronto, so I enter flights from Toronto (YYZ) to Everywhere. This is a great feature because it will tell me where the day, what date, month, etc. is cheapest for me to fly anywhere in the world. (I recently used this site to help me get tickets for my trip to Seoul, South Korea in April. Other airlines charged $ 1,000 – $ 1,500 + for flights to Seoul, but Delta had a promotion and I was able to to get return flights for only $ 850 CAD / $ 770 USD at the exchange rate.)
Another great feature of Skyscanner is that you can enter your destination and travel dates and sign up for "Price Alerts" so that they email you if the price goes up or down for your specified travel dates. (My sister just used this feature to help her get a flight to Edmonton, Alberta for travel in May. The prices for one-way tickets were around $ 300- $ 400 and she was able to get it for $ 269 CAD. )
Another site I would like to use is Expedia. Every day, they show travel offers available to the best domestic and international tourist destinations. They will also include offer packages for "Flight + Hotel". This helps me get a sense of what the average cost is, e.g. A 4 night trip to Las Vegas. Let's say that the cost of flights and hotel to Vegas for 4 nights on the strip is $ 500- $ 600 per night. Person from Toronto, I like to try to keep an eye on offers that are equal to or below this price – this is how I know I'm saving money and getting the best price.
However, one thing about Expedia is that the advertised price is not always available. Looking at their last minute flight offers, I might see return flights to Miami for $ 250 CAD (departing from Toronto), but when I first click on the offer, it might say the price has instead increased to $ 350 CAD. This is not always the case, but it sometimes happens, which is something to keep in mind.
Other sites that I like to use are: Kayak, Redtag, Sunwing, Bing Flight Predictor and Airfarewatchdog.
2. Check the airline's direct site. While these third-party travel sites may be good, sometimes the best non-advertised deals are found directly through the airline's website. I recommend that you sign up for email campaigns offered through your preferred airline. For example, since I live in Canada, I am signed up for Air Canada's travel campaigns. This lets us see special offers as soon as they come live on the Air Canada site.
I really wanted to take a weekend trip to NYC with my sister last February to celebrate her 21st birthday. In addition to checking third-party websites, I would also play with dates by embarking on the journey in Air Canada. They did not announce this deal, but I was able to find direct return flights from YYZ to LGA for $ 199 CAD. This was a lot that I was so happy to find through Air Canada. Sometimes the airline's website also offers promotional codes, so it's worth taking a look.
3. Check departure / arrival from alternative airports. This is not always practical, but sometimes many larger cities have more than one airport or have another airport near them in another city. For Toronto residents, we have Pearson Airport offering domestic and international flights and Billy Bishop Airport offering selected flights within Canada and the United States. There is also the opportunity to cross the border and fly out of Buffalo Airport. Flying out of Buffalo airport is almost always cheaper than Pearson or Billy Bishop. But the downside is most (if not all planes) are not direct and you will have to pay for parking as most leave their car at the airport while traveling. Flying out of Buffalo is always a last resort for me because it is a 90 minute drive from Toronto (you have to consider gas charges) and depending on how long your trip is, parking costs can bring the discounted flight up to or around the same costs such as the flight would have been had it departed from YYZ or YTZ. Sometimes, though, there are significant savings one must have when flying out of Buffalo, which will certainly make it worthwhile for a while. (When I handled the company's business trips at my previous job, last minute trips often occurred and if a group of 2 or more needed to travel to the United States, flying out of the Buffalo business saved upwards of $ 300- $ 600 + per flight. Airfare.)
This can also be said of not only the departure airport you choose, but also the arrival airport. For example, when you fly to NYC, there are essentially three airports that you can choose to arrive at: LGA, JFK or EWR. Sometimes you can get a better price when you arrive at one airport over the other. One thing to remember, however, is the journey from the airport to your hotel. If you take public transit, you can get to Manhattan from the LGA for as little as $ 2.50 when taking the bus and subway trains. However, getting to Manhattan from EWR is a bit more expensive because you have to take New Jersey transit and then switch to the Manhattan transportation system. If you take a taxi, the prices from each airport to Manhattan may vary. This is an important point to keep in mind and I recommend that you do your own research before traveling.
4. Follow airlines and third-party travel websites on Twitter (social media) and sign up for their mailing list. One of the great features of social media is that airlines can use this to advertise special travel campaigns through specific social media. Sometimes an airline offers a special promotional code through their Twitter or Facebook page that is not advertised on other sites. West Jet is offering Blue Tag Thursdays, which is a special promotion only offered on Thursday afternoons (unless they have another special race during this time). You can find this on their site, or look for it advertised on their Twitter or Facebook page. When you sign up for third-party or airline website mailing lists, they sometimes send private promotional offers to their subscribers, giving you secret access to their sales.
5. Don't be afraid to book your flight and hotel separately. Sometimes you can get a great deal on sites like Expedia when you collect your vacation and book flights and hotel at the same time, but this is not always the case. If you see an unusual deal on a flight, book it now, don't wait! You may find a better price at the hotel later. I also recommend that if you actually see a great deal on a flight, please book it now, rather than wait until later that day. Let’s say you look a lot at a flight to San Francisco in the morning, but wait until you get home from work to buy the tickets, this may not work in your favor.
I’ll give you an example: Growing up in San Francisco, I was looking for flights to go back and visit (this was back in October 2012), but they were around $ 600 and I’d wait for a better price. A few weeks later, Delta had a sale and offered flights from Toronto to San Francisco for $ 437 CAD. This was an incredible price considering everything I saw was $ 600 + in the previous weeks so I didn't wait and buy the tickets right away. I checked later in the afternoon to see if the deal was still alive and the price had shot up to $ 600. I highly recommend booking when you see a price you think is high because it may disappear faster than you think.
Sometimes, if you book flights in multiple cities, booking them separately may be more cost effective than going with the same airline. Last summer (June 2013), for example, I wanted to fly from Toronto to Las Vegas, then from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and finally from Los Angeles back home to Toronto. I spent about a month and a half checking prices daily to get the best price. Eventually I was able to get a sale through Air Canada for the flights from Toronto to Las Vegas and from Los Angeles back to Toronto. I was waiting to book the US domestic flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, because Air Canada obviously didn't offer this, and prices were around $ 100 USD for this one-way flight at the time. About a week later, I was on Southwest.com, and I saw that they had a $ 49 USD Getaway deal for the flight I needed from LAS to LAX. This was a lot, so of course I booked right away. My whole plane ticket in several cities ended up costing $ 515 total. (YYZ to LAS and LAX to YYZ cost me $ 466 CAD and the southwest flight from LAS to LAX cost $ 49 USD).
6. Know what time of year and which days are cheapest for flights. Travel on Tuesday and Wednesday is generally cheaper than any other weekday. (In general, mid-week search for flights also provides the best deals). From experience, I also find that Thursday and Saturday can sometimes offer the best price. Of course, that doesn't happen all the time, and you'll have to experiment with dates, which is why Skyscanner is great for deciphering which day is the cheapest to travel and return. Days that tend to be the most expensive are Monday, Friday and sometimes Sunday. Airlines know that most business trips take place Monday – Friday, which is why it tends to be more expensive to depart on Monday and return on Friday. However, business travelers have started flying out on Sunday instead of Monday in hopes of getting a more affordable fare, but this doesn't always work. Obviously getting the cheapest departure date for the week depends on the flexibility of your travel dates.
The time of year also helps. It is usually cheaper to fly to Europe in the off-season and shoulder seasons (late fall, winter and early spring). Last year (2013) my parents traveled to Paris in April with direct return flights with Air Transat from Toronto for $ 671 CAD each. This is not the best price I have seen, but it was definitely the best deal at the time for non-stop flights. Traveling in the off or shoulder season is not always negative. Sometimes due to bad weather, you do not want to travel in the off-season, but generally the off-season is less crowded and offers better prices.
I find that flying to Las Vegas (around $ 400- $ 500 CAD) right now (early spring) is a bit more expensive because most people like to go there in the spring before the weather gets too hot in the summer months . (I compare this to flight deals, which I saw last winter for about $ 350 CAD.) It's always wise to check what events are happening on the dates you want to travel to a particular destination. Sometimes a holiday or large conference meeting can raise prices. I always suggest looking through the average price of flights to your preferred destination and then keeping an eye on how the price fluctuates.
7. Save money on your luggage. Most airlines now charge $ 25 each way to check your luggage. And they will charge you extra if your luggage goes above the air weight limit. You can avoid this by packing light and making sure your luggage doesn't go over the limit (check the carrier to confirm the weight limit and for checked baggage prices). If you are going on a short trip, you may also want to consider sharing a checked bag with your travel partner. This can save you $ 50 on travel costs as it costs $ 25 each way to check your luggage.
If you are going on an even shorter trip (weekend trip), just consider carrying luggage and forgetting the checked bag. Most airlines will let you carry a small amount of liquids on board the aircraft. If you're just on a quick weekend trip, you might be able to get away with just a bag. I made this my trip last month to NYC. I went to my local dollar store and bought a small travel bag with clear plastic containers. This allowed me to bring shampoo, conditioner, face wash, night / day cream, foundation, etc. It also included stickers so I knew what everything was. I realize this is not convenient for everyone, but for a 2 night trip, I'd much rather spend $ 1 for the travel bag at Dollarama and then $ 50 for a checked bag. It also saves me the hassle of waiting to pick up my checked bag on Luggage Claim.
8. Shop around for travel / health insurance. I always recommend getting travel or (extra) health insurance for your trip, but sometimes you don’t get the best price when choosing the insurance package offered through the airline when you book your flights. Usually, your work insurance will offer some form of travel or health coverage when you travel. Talk to HR about this if you are unsure. You can also buy insurance through your bank – this is where I tend to find the best rates. This will also be cost effective in the long run when planning and traveling multiple times throughout the year. (Instead of paying for insurance every time you book a flight, you may be covered by your bank or other place of the year for a fixed fee.) If you are over 40 (or have a history of health problems) , I would recommend buying extra health coverage (even if you are already covered for work). Unfortunately, we can never predict what might happen while traveling, and if, heaven forbid, something happened, you'll be glad you bought the extra health insurance. This is something that is unique to each individual, so I can't tell you what the best option is, it's something you need to discuss with HR, your bank and family to see what the best choice is is for you.
9. Avoid paying for seat selection (if you can). Some airlines ask for an extra fee to make a seat choice, sometimes it's included in the price – if that's the case, that's great, but if you have to pay $ 20 or so to make a front seat choice, would I pass. You can usually check in early (24 hours before departure) and make seat choices for free. You may or may not get the seats you wanted. It's a hit or miss. If you do not have a preference for where you are sitting or are willing to take the risk, avoid paying the extra fee for choosing a seat.
10. Take advantage of travel programs. There is so much competition between airlines and credit cards today, so sign up for their travel programs. Talk to your bank and see what travel rewards credit cards work best for your needs. Many of them allow you to collect points on your daily consumption so you can redeem them for free flights. Some of these credit cards have provisions such as That you can only book flights through your bank or there are black out dates for travel. Because of the large amount of travel credit cards offered today, they are getting better and you can find one that does not contain any of these provisions. This means that you can use your points to redeem flights anytime and anywhere. Sometimes these cards come with a hefty annual membership fee, but the benefits alone are worth it.
The same is true of airlines' frequent flyer programs. The more you fly with an airline, the more frequent flyer points you collect. This works well for business travelers because even though their business pays for their travels, they can collect frequent flyer points so they can redeem for their personal vacation trips. Some companies even allow employees to book their own flights and then submit receipts for reimbursement. This allows the employee to get points on their travel rewards credit card in addition to frequent flyer points.
I hope these tips help you when booking your next vacation or trip. Note that these tips have worked in my own experience, but may not work for everyone. The most important thing to remember is that the key to getting the best deal on your flights is to have patience and be flexible with your travel dates.