1. Booking in advance often gets you a lower fare. The cheapest fares are likely to be unavailable in the last three or four weeks before a flight.
2. You can often get cheaper airline tickets by shopping online than by using a travel agent. Some airlines even allow you to pick your seat when booking, and many offer web-only discounts.
3. Cheaper fares can often be had for trips that depart between Monday noon and Thursday noon, or on Saturdays. However, spending at least Saturday night at your destination may also help you find a lower fare. This policy, begun by airlines trying to profit from business travelers, is becoming less common. Monday, Friday, and summer Saturday flights tend to be crowded. Check a variety of dates if your travel plans are flexible.
4. Some people with very flexible schedules (and a lot of patience) save money by consistently choosing crowded flights, which the airlines often overbook. When the gate agent asks for volunteers for a later flight, these travelers pick up travel vouchers for a subsequent flight in exchange for being “bumped” from the flight.
5. Certain periods around holidays are more expensive and crowded than normal for all forms of commercial travel and accommodation. In the U.S., this includes: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the four days before Christmas, the first working days after New Year’s. The holidays themselves and “shadow” days (like December 26) are often very light. Also watch out for Memorial Day weekend, college Spring Break season in March and April, and seasonal destinations (beaches in the local summer, ski areas when there’s snow, New England and Canada when there are fall leaves to see, college towns when there are graduations happening, Las Vegas on weekends and Valentine’s Day).
6. High-traffic routes between major cities are often considerably cheaper than flights to smaller cities. Consider taking public transit or renting a car for the remainder of your journey. High-traffic routes also allow you more choice of departure time and flexibility in case of missed or canceled flights. (For example, in order to get to Yellowstone, you might wish to fly to Salt Lake City and drive to Yellowstone from there, instead of flying into Jackson Hole.)
7. Check the flights for all the airports near your destination city. In Chicago, consider flights into Midway Airport as well as O’Hare. In San Francisco, take a look at flights to Oakland and San Jose as well. Discount carriers often fly to these alternate airports, which may actually be closer to your final destination.
8. Buying a round-trip ticket is usually cheaper than buying two one-way tickets, which usually involves using the same two airports for both leaving and returning. But sometimes this is not true. Use a sophisticated cost-comparison site like Orbitz to check.
9. Sometimes buying a round-trip ticket is cheaper than buying a one-way ticket, even if you are only going in one direction. But some airlines have instituted a “missed flight” fee to prevent people from doing this. Be sure to check before attempting this.
10. If you’re flying from one coast to the other, consider a “red-eye” flight that leaves around 11:00PM and arrives in the morning on the other coast. These flights are often cheaper, and you spend one less night in a hotel.
11. Avoid booking the last flight of the day in case you miss your scheduled flight or it is delayed or canceled due to weather or technical problems (neither are uncommon). Airlines do not provide lodging for delays caused by weather or other factors outside their control.
12. In general, the competition is steeper, and thus prices lower, in the American flight market than the Canadian one. Travellers heading to a Canadian city close to the US border should consider flying into a nearby American airport (the best examples being Seattle for Vancouver and Buffalo for Toronto). In some perverse cases, it may even be cheaper to get between Canadian cities by buying a connecting flight to a US city and doubling back (e.g., flying Toronto-Vancouver-Seattle, then taking a bus back to Vancouver).
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