Written by Nisheet:
It’s a good bet that the cost of booking airfare is probably going to be one of the biggest chunks of your total trip cost. This is especially true when travelling internationally and during the peak season when all the major airlines love taking advantage of all the poor tourists by charging top dollar. I know friends that gave up on their dream overseas trip because the airfare kept creeping up and up each day to the point that they could no longer afford to go at all. But amongst all the despair and stress that comes with booking a flight, there’s a ray of hope and I am here to share how to make the whole process a little simpler and a bit of fun! So…here we go:
This is an age old question that’s been discussed time and time again. If you ask your friends, the chances are that they will all have their own strategy on picking the best day to book. Here’s the thing…you just never know what the best day to book will be. This is because the airlines love playing the cat and mouse game of matching or defeating their competitor’s prices. Having said that, there are still some basic rules that you can follow. You can be pretty darn sure that Friday-Sunday is probably the worst time to buy the airline tickets. This is because airlines know that people have free time on weekends where they can actually think about their trips and book their flights. Monday also is probably not a good day to buy because the airlines are still working on balancing and stabilizing their airfares and waiting to see who drops their prices first. So, your best bet on booking airfare is going to be from Tuesday-Thursday.
Unfortunately there isn’t a great answer for this question. In general though, you should try to book you tickets around a month in advance. If you book too far in advance, the airlines aren’t in a price war yet. If you book too close and the plane is almost full, then the tickets are going to be very high. One exception is last minute fares when the plane still has tickets to sell. You could end up with a major deal in that case. And, of course, if you are booking a holiday trip, you can throw all the previous advice out the window. In that case, you will probably want to book well ahead of time because you are fighting with the rest of the country all trying to get a flight on the same day. If you are willing, it is often cheaper in that case to fly on the actual holiday instead of a day or two in advance.
Another trick is to use a good price prediction tool. I have found Kayak’s Price Trend tool to be of great help in this area. You simply put your origin, destination, and the travel dates and after clicking “search”, the top left-hand corner of the results page will show you the predicted price trend. The price trend graph shows you a history of airfares and the confidence level on whether you should wait of buy the tickets right now. This tool works for all the major world-wide airports, however, it won’t show you the price trend on smaller airports (sorry Erie, PA). It’s important to note that this price trend tool is not always correct and this is where you can use the very awesome 24-hour grace period trick that I will discuss later.
There are tons of websites out there that claim being the best at finding the lowest airfares for you (Kayak, Priceline, Expedia…). While these sites pretty much do the same thing, one secret that you probably aren’t aware of is that they are all tapping their search queries from the same database. So, the only thing that’s really different between these sites is how much filtering you can do to find the right flight and how they show the results. Wouldn’t you love to skip the middle-man and go directly to the place where all these sites are reaping their searches from? Well my friend, the answer is Matrix Airfare Search. I have found this tool to be the most powerful no-nonsense airfare search site out there. Start by selecting a round-trip, one-way, or multi-city search. Then enter your exact travel dates or see a calendar of lowest fares based on the length of stay. Finally, select how many stops you are willing to take and if you’re willing to change airports. After you hit the “search” button, you’ll be presented with every possible combination of airfares sorted based on the price. The site does takes a few seconds longer to load than other sites but the extra wait is worth it. It’s important to note that Matrix Airfare search is for fare search only and you can NOT book your tickets on the site. For booking airfare, you have to go directly to the airline’s website. Note: I will be going over step-by-step on how to use the Matrix Airfare Search in a future post so look forward to that.
If you’re willing to be flexible on your travel dates than this trick can save you a lot of money. Usually, people have specific dates in mind for travel which are usually…leave on a Friday and come back on a Sunday. But what if you traveled Saturday to Monday instead? Would that be cheaper? The best way to get a feel of prices based on flexible dates is to use the +/- 2 days feature of the Matrix Airfare Search to find the best combination of departure dates that give you the lowest airfare. If you are extremely flexible with you dates, you can also view an entire month of departure dates with a specified trip length. Look for my future post detailing how to use this option on the Matrix Airfare Search if you need help.
Kayak also has the flexible dates feature and allows you to look at a +/3 day feature. While Kayak is more limited in searching options, this flexible feature options is super simple to use and provides its findings in an easy to read table format.
I saved the best for last. This trick is not well known amongst the casual traveler and is not for the faint-hearted but when used wisely, it can save you upwards of $500! According to the rules of the FAA, as long as your departure date is 7 days or more from the time you booked your tickets, you are allowed to cancel your airline ticket within 24 hours of booking without paying any fees or penalty. That’s right…you can just go to the place where you booked your tickets and just hit the cancel button and get away with it! What does it mean to you? Let me provide a real world example. Ashley booked a flight on Delta for $1050 from Tampa to Barcelona on a Monday at 11 PM. On Tuesday at 6 PM, she noticed that the same exact flight on Delta had dropped to $980. So, she quickly cancelled and re-booked her flight on Delta’s website. Then, on Wednesday morning at 10am, she noticed the price for the same exact flight had dropped to $750. So, she rinsed-and-repeat and canceled her old flight and booked the new one. This fun game finally ended when the price of the flights jumped back to $1050 around 8PM and stayed there. So, in the end, she ended up saving around $300 all by doing some simple mouse clicks!! All she had to do was monitor the airfare every couple of hours and it ended up saving her three hundred greenbacks. Use this tip wisely and you can win at the games airlines love to play.