Beware of snake oil salesmen and their magic formulas for snagging airfare bargains. Some will tell you that online travel agencies – like Orbitz, or Expedia – are just the ticket. Others only shop on the actual airline sites themselves. Still others tout “aggregators” such as meta-search engine Kayak. But the truth is, to find a great fare, you’ve got to put in work. There is no one best method – you’ve got to try them all.
Here, six to-do’s to put on your list – don’t skip a step, and you’ll be on your way – for less, we’re almost certain – in no time
#1 Sign up for free airfare alerts. No matter how much research you do, you can’t move on to the internet 24/7 and monitor every up and down; airfares can change in a heartbeat, at any time of day or night. Free services at Yapta.com, Hotwire.com, Tripadvisor.com/Flights will monitor the route for you and alert you to fare changes, until you tell them to stop.
#2 Be flexible. Those who are, fare best. Sometimes, changing your travel dates by a day or two can result in big savings. Web sites with excellent flexible date search capabilities include Cheaptickets.com, Kayak.com and some airline sites (notably, Southwest.com’s “low fare calendar”), all of which search a month at a glance. Cheapair.com is also useful for searching over a longer (330-day) travel period.
#3 Check fares several times a day, and don’t listen to airfare pundits who predict airfares. There’s no one magic day or hour of the week to search for low airfares. Some “experts” claim to know where airfares are headed and which day of the week is best to buy, but airlines like to keep you guessing. And although some swear by automated airfare predictions (e.g. Bing.com/travel), doesn’t it make sense that if Bing really could predict airfares then wouldn’t every other site would be out of business by now?
#4 Don’t believe it when they say you only have to shop on our website. No airfare website has all airlines or all the deals. Until recently, Kayak.com didn’t have JetBlue’s fares, for example, and it doesn’t have fares on Southwest (only airfarewatchdog.com compares Southwest’s fares with other airlines’, by the way).
#5 Airlines don’t always show their best fares on other sites. Increasingly, airlines such as JetBlue, AerLingus, Singapore Airlines and Iberia are trying to drive traffic to their own websites, bypassing the middleman (after all, they sell more than just airfares on those sites and they hate paying commissions to third-party sites). Thus, they reserve their very best fares, plus promo code deals, for their own sites. A good way to get alerted about promo codes is to follow airlines that serve your desired route (or routes) on Twitter, where the craziest fares are often first announced, or at the very least, buzzed about.
#6 Mix and match. Unless you’re the most loyal of travelers – and in this day and age, loyalty doesn’t always pay – don’t be married to any one airline for your itinerary. Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia will show you pairings that have you flying outbound on one airline and back home on another; sometimes it’s way, way cheaper than the alternative. Something you won’t learn about on an airline website.
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