As a travel professional I get asked this question often. The answer is not always very clear but
There are several steps to shopping – these are key especially when shopping fares for a route or trip you have not done before.I am sharing today how I shop fares for my guests as well as for myself so that I can make the best decisions possible for myself and my guests.
1- Know what airports service the place you are going and if there are any alternate ones you can use. Example- you may be able to fly into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami for less money – but if you are cruising from Miami this may mean you need to plan extra time to get from the airport to your ship if you fly in the same day.
2- Are there any days of the week that flights are not possible for your route? Some discount airlines like Allegiant only fly into certain cities on certain days of the week. Some long haul destinations like Tahiti have similar restrictions with flights only going on certain days of the week. Keep these things in mind when planning travel to places that are off the beaten path.
3- Remember – flying to Europe is almost always overnight so if you have meetings or a trip that starts on a Saturday- you will want to fly leaving the US on Friday – or even Thursday if you want to make sure you are rested when Saturday comes around. Flights from the South Pacific usually leave late afternoon to middle of the night and get you to the US early in the morning.
Now you can start shopping routes and pricing.
I usually start pricing my fare on a good discount site like CheapoAir.com. I use the results from the searches to see what days of the week are cheaper for flights, what airlines offer more choices and what are my routing options. If you are taking a trip that starts one place and has you flying home from another- you may want to book your air through the discounter which will provide good rates and quick booking tools. Downside- usually you will end up waiting on seat assignments unless you call the airline direct once ticketed. If you forget to do this- you and your travel companion have no guarantee you will be seated together.
If I see a stand out rate with a single airline or a route I like but don’t see it at the price I want through the discounters- I will then start the second part of my airfare hunt and go to the airline’s website to book the flights direct. The advantage here is you can pick your seats from the get go and pick your specific routing and even upgrade one leg or another to premium coach or any other class of service online and direct. I like booking direct because if you run into any issues on scheduling- you will get priority service over guests who booked elsewhere.
For big trips being made well in advance I like to go through the exercise of shopping a pricing a few times to get a feel for the range of fares available to me. I have a trip to Europe in the fall that I planned last December and bought airline tickets for in May. I bought my tickets at what I felt was a good fare and had the fewest connections and shortest actual flight time without any extra long layovers. I did not get the lowest fare but it was the best fare for my schedule and since I booked direct with the airline, my travel partner and myself are seated together for the entire trip.
Last year we did a cruise out of Florida in December. I had been shopping airfare for a few months and in early July a big tropical storm came up and the news was filled with reports that it might turn into a hurricane for Florida. I hopped online that night and was able to book my air for $200 less per person than I had been seeing for my December flight thanks to temporary market panic. I had this experience previously when I bought tickets to New Orleans from Phoenix when a hurricane was raging in the gulf. My airfare dropped by over $150 per person during the storm and then popped back up the next morning when the storm blew over.
For Hawaii- know that late August- mid-November is off peak season and flights will always cost less than travel at holidays or during kids summer vacation. For Europe- flights leaving after Oct 1 and before May 30 are always less than during peak summer travel months.
For domestic flights- 14-21 days in advance will offer you the best fares for non-peak travel times. Flights that include a Saturday night stay will always be less too. Remember to include baggage fees in your flight budgets. That discount airline is not such a good deal when you are paying for bringing a carry on on the plane along with paying to check a suitcase. Southwest is my favorite for domestic flights whenever possible since you get to bring free bags and they offer great senior rates for my friends and guests ( I am not quite there yet). I will never fly Spirit again after having a terrible experience with them two years ago and Allegiant here in Mesa, AZ is known for taking off when the plane is full even when people are still in line with fully purchased tickets. I am going to Hawaii in two weeks on American/ US Air who I used for Hawaii two years ago. I anticipate no problems. I bought my non-stop tickets 8 weeks out and got a great rate – right in line with what I expected based on how much air runs during this off peak time frame.
There is no magic best time for booking air but if you do a little research you feel confident in your flight purchase. If you need help- reach out to a travel professional or you friend who travels for business. We are always happy to assist our friends and family who don’t travel as often as we do.