The seemingly ever-changing world of airfares is one of the most confusing aspects of the travel business. It’s entirely possible for every person on a typically crowded plane to have paid a different fare for their ticket – even though the seats are basically all the same.
To understand the key to thrifty and cheaper priced flying, it helps to understand how the system works. The major airlines basically have the same fares – the discrepancies in ticket prices occur as there are only a certain number of seats at each price on each flight. When a particular fare is sold out, the remaining seats are sold at a higher price.
Rather than call around all the airlines, it’s easier and quicker to check the various discount travel websites such as Travelocity, Expedia and Hotwire. Most of these are owned by the airlines anyway. If you are flying to the Caribbean, Mexico or Hawaii, try contacting a travel agent who specializes in bulk or consolidator fares for they are often lower than regular fares.
In general, the farther ahead you are able to book your plane ticket, the less you will pay - although there are still bargains to be had if you do need to travel at the last minute. (Most airlines allow you to book up to 11 months ahead) If you are trying to get the lowest airfare, flexibility is also important.
Whether you book on your airline’s website or speak to a reservations agent, be sure to point out that your date and/or times are flexible. One strategy is to ask what the lowest fare is in a particular market – and then ask when you have to fly to qualify for that fare. In many markets, it is also less expensive to travel weekdays (Monday through Thursday) rather than at the weekend.
Another secret to thrifty flying is to take connecting flights where available – there is often a big difference between the cost of nonstop and connecting flights. The reason for this is that sometimes the airfare can be ‘broken’ – if you are taking a connecting flight, two different fares may be used and combined together, resulting in an overall lower price than would be available on a nonstop flight to the same place.
When inquiring about ticket prices, be sure to ask for any discounts which may be applicable – sometimes these are not offered to you. Most airlines offer military, senior and government fares for domestic travel. Companion fares, where two travel for the price of one, and student fares are also offered occasionally.
If your situation justifies it and you can verify the reason for your trip, your airline may choose to offer you what is known as a “compassion” or “bereavement” fare. If you are traveling at short notice, these fares can be significantly cheaper – they also usually allow itinerary changes for no charge.
If you regularly fly at short notice, there are some things you can do to help keep the cost of your plane ticket down. Check your airline’s website for last minute specials which usually have names like “getaway fares” or “web savers” and may require you to travel on specific dates – often over the weekend. You can also sign up on your airline’s website to be notified by email of impending sale fares or promotional fares to places you fly to regularly.