You’ve probably heard that the best time to book a flight is Tuesdays at 3pm or Wednesdays at midnight. Maybe you heard the “magic” day is 54 days in advance. Myth, myth, and myth. Beyond the 21 day advance purchase, fares can fluctuate hourly.
My experience in stretching the airfare dollar relies on searching well in advance to get a general idea what fares to expect, search often, and snag that seat when you see it.
There are hundreds of travel search engines out there and a couple of my favorites are kayak.com and airfarewatchdog.com. I sign up for their alerts, check fares directly with the airlines, and patiently wait for the fare I’m willing to go after. Kayak will alert when an outbound flight is on one airline returning on another. You may confuse your mileage programs but saving a bundle is better than miles, at least in my logbook. Airfarewatchdog will send best fares between many of your favorite destinations.
Another consideration is fees, especially bag fees. I recently purchased a promotional fare on Southwest with their Ding alert. This summer they were launching non-stop service between Portland and San Diego with promo fares of $79. The same service on Alaska Air would be $50 each way just for your bags. Although I rarely check bags, Southwest will fly 2 bags FREE. And watch out for the discount airlines, like Spirit, which nickel and dime every penny out of you with fees.
If you must fly during the holidays, fly on the holiday. When I worked with the airlines, a stand-by seat Thanksgiving day or New Years day was almost always available.
Within the 21 day advance purchase, prices are much higher. I have never done this but in a pinch Priceline has a name your own price. If you choose this route, be prepared to fly at odd hours with airlines you may have never flown on before. Buyer Beware, you won’t know this until you pay for your trip but you could save 50% or more.
The prevailing theme among most “travel hackers” is to be flexible. Fly off-peak, mid-week, to a near-by airport , and pack light. Traveling long distances in short spans of time requires patience.
Traveling within the US, where flying is perhaps your only option, smile, the skies can be more fare-friendlier than ever.