In a world where fuel surcharges and miscellaneous fees contribute to sky-high airfare, saving money on flights is no easy task. Below, we take a simple approach to unraveling the mysteries of buying airplane tickets, and suss out when prices are likely to be the lowest.
Purchase timing: You might assume that purchasing far in advance would net you the greatest savings on an airline ticket. Conversely, you may assume that buying a ticket just two hours prior to departure would cost you the most. Neither assumption is entirely correct. As it turns out, airlines typically charge a premium for tickets purchased over six months out from departure. The way the airlines see it, you're willing to pay more to buy a ticket early, so you can secure both your preferred departure time and your preferred seat. At the other end of the spectrum, purchasing a ticket within 7 days of departure is a definite no-no if you're looking for savings; airlines charge the most within this window. The sweet spot is two to three months from departure. Prices are generally lowest then, and you'll still find a healthy amount of preferred seating available.
Departure and arrival dates: Wondering why that week-long flight that departs on a Monday and returns on a Friday is so expensive? Because that flight configuration is the most commonly used pair for business travelers who commute on a weekly basis. Your best bet is to depart and return on a Tuesday or Thursday; alternatively, aim for a Saturday. These days are the most infrequently used by business travelers, which leads to lighter loads, more open seats, less demand, and cheaper fares.
Stay flexible: If you're fortunate enough to live within driving distance of multiple airports, use this to your advantage. For example, when pricing a direct flight from Norfolk, VA to Boston, MA on Delta, the starting airfare may well come in at over $800 for a flight that departs in two weeks. However, the same flight departing and returning from Raleigh, NC was just over $300. In some cases, driving to smaller airports can save you money. If you can take the time to commute to these airports, it can be worth it. You'll almost always find cheaper fares by flying out of Flint instead of Detroit, or Long Island instead of NYC.
Have any other surefire tips for saving money on airfare? Let us know in the comments section!