By Benjamin Szweda
Everyone has their own method, maybe even superstitions, that they follow to help them book what they think is the cheapest flight possible. Maybe you only fly one airline. Maybe you only fly budget airlines. Maybe you only book through online or retail travel agencies like AAA, or maybe you only book direct. A look at booking data will either confirm or debunk your beliefs. And, if you didn’t have any method and just hoped you’d get the best deal, the data might provide a strategy for you.
BOOKING AT THE WRONG TIME
Skyscanner, an online travel agency, analyzed its booking data from 2018 to provide evidence-based tips on the best time to book a flight. The suggested time frame changes based on whether you’re booking a domestic or an international flight. For the former, Skyscanner suggests booking two to three weeks in advance and on a Tuesday. For international travel, Skyscanner recommends reserving your flight six months in advance and on a Wednesday. For all travel, Skyscanner suggests 5 a.m. as the ideal time to book and advises steering clear of 8–11 p.m.
CheapAir, another online travel agency, lessens the pressure a bit with its annual research. CheapAir’s number-crunching shows that erring on the side of booking early, even 6 to 10 months early, will only set you back between $20 – $50 per ticket. It’s booking late that will really hurt, with fares a week before departure growing nearly $220 higher than the cheapest rate offered.
FLYING AT THE WRONG TIME
CheapAir’s research findings put more of a focus on the day you depart than the day you book. Tuesdays are the best choice, followed by Wednesdays. Flying on a Sunday costs $85 more than on Tuesdays, with Fridays in second place for most expensive. If you want one final cheap domestic trip this year, departing on a Tuesday in September might be your best bet. September was one of the three months Skyscanner listed as cheapest for 2019. For updated information on the cheapest month or day to fly, use search tools like Google Flights.
FLYING TO THE WRONG AIRPORT
Some cities may only have one airport, or the next closest may be over an hour away. However, some cities have two or even three airports—and they could all have direct rail access to the city. When searching for flights, search by city instead of airport code to expand the search results. Also, instead of only searching for a roundtrip ticket, price out two one-way flights, including those that might arrive in one airport and depart from another.
ASSUMING THE CHEAPEST FARE IS CHEAPEST
A ticket on a budget airline or the basic economy fare on a legacy carrier may not be the cheapest option. Either of those could end up costing more than the main cabin fare on a legacy carrier after you purchase all the desired add-ons such as seat assignments, checked bags, and even carry-on luggage. If you’re not familiar with the budget airline’s rules, take some time to read the fine print—you could end up losing even more money by paying for your bag or seat after booking versus when you purchase the ticket. On a one-way flight, seat assignments, carry-on luggage, and checked bags can cost an extra $25 to $305 per traveler on top of the fare, depending on the airline.
NOT HAVING AN AIRLINE CREDIT CARD
Southwest attracts much of its business because “bags fly free,” but this can be the case on most airlines if you have the right credit card. You might consider picking up an airline credit card if you live by a specific airline’s hub or regularly find yourself on the same carrier. In addition to some other cool perks like early boarding, typically your first checked bag is free, and the pain of basic economy seating can be lessened.
Go to Other AAA Clubs
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