How to Make Sure You Paid Less For Your Plane Ticket Than the Person Sitting in the Seat Next to You
By travel writer Holly Burns of Nothing But Bonfires
Finding out you’ve forked over a hundred bucks less than the man in 12D is always a satisfying feeling, but you’ve really got to work to get there. Here are five ways to help you pay a little less for your next flight.
1. Start looking now.
Know you’re going somewhere? Start scouring fares now. Yep, this very minute. Sure, it might seem like Christmas/Easter/your preschooler’s college graduation is a long way away, but you want to get a head start on finding the cheapest ticket, and the best time to do it is often way in advance. Like, way in advance. At the same time, though, don’t just jump on the first fare you see. Because you also need to….
2. …Play the game.
The thing about booking air travel is that it’s a gamble. While it’s more likely that airfares will go up rather than down the longer you wait—meaning that if you see a really amazing deal, you should jump on it immediately, particularly around holiday periods—you need to be prepared for the fact that the price you’re looking at might actually drop a couple of weeks after you book it: airlines have sales, for instance, and fares can also be lowered if the flight isn’t selling as well as expected.
3. Be more flexible than a yoga teacher.
Can you shift your dates a little? It’s usually cheaper to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Any room to maneuver on the time you want to travel? And what about flying out of (or into) a different airport? The fewer boxes you have to tick, the easier it’ll be to find a rock-bottom price. (Just be wary of being too flexible: at some point, you need to ask yourself if saving twelve bucks is worth that three-hour layover in Denver at 5am. I’m guessing probably not.)
4. Monitor the situation.
Here’s where you become a stalker: check for new routes and prices often—or as often as you can stand it—because things change fast. Sign up for sale alerts and fare trackers, so that you’re the first to know. Keep your eyes peeled. Hold out as long as you can. If the price doesn’t appear to be budging, cut your losses and go for it now.
5. Add up the extras.
It used to be that saving twenty-five bucks was saving twenty-five bucks. But look carefully at the policies of that carrier offering you the best price: will you have to pay to check a second bag? A first bag? Will you be forking over for an on-board Diet Coke? When you’re being nickel-and-dimed, those nickels and dimes add up awfully fast. Do the math and figure out what you’re actually saving by choosing the “cheapest” ticket; depending on the airline, your second or third choices might turn out to be a better deal in the end.
Published January 7, 2009. Last updated June 29, 2018.