Booking an airline ticket might appear straightforward, but seasoned travelers and travel experts hold varying perspectives. In this article, we will tell you several user-friendly tips and tricks designed to help you cut costs on your upcoming airline booking.
When purchasing an airline ticket, here’s what typically happens:
First, we visit our preferred websites to explore their offerings. We use specific criteria, such as travel dates and times, booking class preferences, preferred airlines, or alliances, among others. If you’re comfortable with the prices presented by these websites, you can conclude your search and make a booking.
However, if you find that the price offered based on your search is rather high or suspect that better alternatives may still be available, consider applying the following tips and tricks. We have meticulously selected them based on feedback from travel agencies, well-established industry facts, and personal experiences.
How many days in advance do I have to book my ticket?
If you’re wondering how far in advance to book your airline ticket, CheapAir, an online search engine, suggests that booking your ticket 47 days before your planned travel date could lead to cost savings. This insight is based on an analysis of over five million flights booked on US domestic routes in 2015, consistently revealing that the 47-day mark in advance tends to offer the most affordable fares.
How the browsing history affect the price of an airplane ticket?
Clearing your browser’s cookies is a crucial step that you may already be familiar with when starting online searches. For detailed instructions tailored to your specific browsers, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, consult the help and support resources available.
If you frequently refresh your browser in hopes of securing a better deal, this action alone might inadvertently inflate the cost of your flight. Here’s how this phenomenon works:
Notably, it’s not just airline websites; virtually all websites employ cookies. According to Pctools.com, cookies are text files retained on your computer by browsers, containing various information related to specific website visits. In simpler terms, a cookie acts as a message exchanged between a web browser and a web server, which is then relayed back to the web server whenever the browser requests a page.
Min-Jee Hwang from Wiser, a firm specializing in pricing strategy analysis, highlights the role of browser cookies used by airline websites in tracking your search activities. Hwang explains that this practice is known as “dynamic pricing,” where prices fluctuate based on demand and conditions. While incognito windows (a form of safe browsing) are a commonly used method to circumvent dynamic pricing, their effectiveness can be inconsistent. Consequently, the most effective approach is to clear both your search history and cookies.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to efficiently clear your cookies and search history:
Eliminate your cookies by clearing your browser history. Be sure to purge everything from the very beginning of your browsing history, rather than just the last several days, which may be the default setting in some browsers.
Following the removal of cookies, close or restart your web browser.
By following these steps, you prevent websites from discerning what you’ve been searching for and the duration of your search. This proactive approach can help you avoid being presented with higher prices, as your search history won’t make you appear more desperate to make a purchase. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to airfare bookings.
Does My Location Impact Ticket Prices?
Absolutely, it does! Much like cookies, websites have the ability to detect and log your IP address, which reveals your geographical location. To be clear: without an assigned IP address, you cannot browse the internet or be online. Let’s emphasize that we’re not discussing the absence of an IP address here.
As per Wikipedia, an Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device, such as computers and printers, that participates in a computer network using the Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two primary functions: host or network interface identification and location-based addressing.
It’s worth noting that regional pricing, or the location from which a ticket is purchased (often referred to as the “point of sale”), can indeed influence the price of an airline ticket.
According to Erica Ho of Map Happy, international tickets can often be more budget-friendly in regions or countries with lower living standards. Therefore, booking a ticket from a location where you are not physically present, or manipulating your apparent location, can significantly reduce your ticket price. The key here is to “persuade” the seller’s website that you’re genuinely making the airline ticket purchase from that different location.
Erica Ho suggests that concealing your actual IP address can do the trick effectively, with the best method being the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service.
While this article doesn’t intend to delve into the workings of a VPN service, we recommend conducting your own research. If you’re not familiar with this topic, as stated on whatismyip.com, “A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a method used to enhance security and privacy on both private and public networks, including WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. VPNs are most commonly used by corporations to safeguard sensitive data.” Both free and paid VPN services are available.
So, if you acquire an IP address that differs from the country in which you reside via a VPN network, and you intend to fly from, for instance, California to a destination in Eastern Europe, purchasing the ticket from that foreign country may significantly reduce your costs compared to buying it from California. Erica Ho mentions that this strategy has worked for her 80% of the time because fares may be subject to specific resident restrictions and may not be available to or utilized by foreign nationals.
However, it’s essential to keep in mind that even if you “alter” your location using a VPN, some countries consider VPN usage illegal. Furthermore, using your credit card to purchase the ticket may reveal your actual residence. In such cases, it’s advisable to use a credit card that does not impose foreign transaction fees.
What are the optimal days for travel?
The prime days to travel, which could potentially secure you more affordable airfare, are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Fridays and Sundays tend to be the busiest days for flying. However, why opt for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday when you can include weekends and extend your vacation? If you’re open to midweek travel, you might find opportunities to save money. Airlines face lost revenue with empty seats, so they often offer reduced fares to entice travelers to book flights on off-peak days.
When is the ideal time to fly?
If you have the flexibility to choose your flight times, consider departures between 5 to 7 o’clock in the morning or after 8 o’clock at night. Red-eye flights, which depart late at night and arrive early the next morning, are typically more budget-friendly.
From our experience, we’ve observed that longer layover times between flights often result in lower prices. This is particularly true for international travel.
Indeed, flights with layovers exceeding 8 hours tend to be significantly cheaper than those with layovers ranging from 2 to 5 hours. If you’re contemplating opting for a lengthier layover to save money, ensure you’re allowed to spend the night at the airport if you prefer not to book a hotel.
Some airports offer complimentary sleeping lounges or paid sleeping pods, while others restrict passengers from being in terminals after midnight or during specified hours if no flights are scheduled to depart from that terminal. Consequently, you may need to seek accommodation at a hotel, which may negate the savings on your airfare. In such cases, it may be more prudent to pay a slightly higher airfare and avoid the extended layover altogether if no other viable options exist.
Fly with Different Airlines or Depart from Alternate Airports
Frequent flyers are well aware that purchasing two one-way tickets can sometimes cost more than a single round-trip ticket. However, this isn’t always the case. If you’re open to some experimentation, explore the possibility of buying two separate one-way tickets to potentially secure a better price.
Additionally, consider the option of departing from alternative airports, particularly smaller regional ones where taxes and fees tend to be lower. It’s worth noting that such airports often attract low-cost airlines, and they operate differently. Typically, low-cost carriers offer lower initial prices when booked directly through their websites. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that low-cost airlines may not always provide more favorable flight times, dates, or layover durations. Additionally, their fares may not include perks like reserved seating or checked baggage fees.
Opting for separate tickets provides you with added flexibility regarding your arrival and departure times and the choice of different departure or arrival airports.
Naturally, when purchasing airline tickets, it’s advisable to compare the prices offered on airline websites with those found on non-airline websites.
The option of separate tickets is often more suitable for domestic flights, where connecting flights can lead to lower prices since non-stop flights tend to be more expensive.
However, it’s crucial to remember that if you’re flying internationally and need to change flights, it’s safer and more prudent to travel with a single airline. In the event of unexpected occurrences, such as lost or delayed luggage or missed flights due to unforeseen circumstances, the airline has a responsibility to transport you to your final destination and handle luggage issues. Consequently, dealing with just one carrier is preferable to managing multiple airlines, as the latter often attempt to shift responsibility when inquiries arise.
Paying for Airfare with Miles
Purchasing your airfare using travel miles can make your flight virtually cost-free, with only minor fees or taxes to consider, depending on the airline or seller.
If you have accumulated the necessary miles for a domestic or international flight, you can choose to use these miles as payment. The number of miles required varies from one airline to another, so it’s advisable to consult your miles account for specific details.
Miles can be acquired through credit card spending programs that offer travel miles or earned through loyalty airline programs like United Airlines Mileage Plus or the German Lufthansa Miles & More program. Nearly all major airlines offer some form of loyalty program or miles incentive.
However, it’s essential to keep in mind that using miles often comes with restrictions, especially during popular holidays or peak travel seasons. Additionally, you may have limited flexibility regarding your travel dates. There are times when your miles may not be available for redemption at all or when you’ll be presented with premium-class tickets that require more miles. Therefore, when paying with miles, flexibility with your travel dates is crucial.
Here’s an example to illustrate the process: Suppose we wanted to use 50,000 miles from our German Lufthansa Miles & More program for a flight from the USA to Europe just before Christmas with a return on or before New Year’s Eve. During this example, the travel dates fall within a peak season. However, the airline had no economy class tickets available for the requested dates; they only offered business class tickets. The business class tickets required 105,000 miles, while we only had 50,000 miles available. Unfortunately, the airline did not allow us to pay 50,000 miles and the remaining amount in cash. Consequently, we couldn’t use any miles to book this flight. Therefore, thorough research is essential to determine what your miles can offer on your desired travel dates.
Utilize Partial Miles
Let’s imagine you’re planning an international trip, but you have only 30,000 miles in your account. For instance, you want to travel from the West Coast city of San Francisco, California, to Frankfurt, Germany. Often, such flights may necessitate a layover in one of the East Coast hubs, such as Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C.
For a round-trip domestic flight within the United States, you typically need to redeem between 25,000 and 30,000 miles, depending on the airline program. Here’s a clever approach: use your miles to book your round-trip flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and pay for the flight to Frankfurt separately, either with cash or a credit card. Essentially, you’ll be covering only the round-trip segment from Washington, D.C. to Frankfurt.
However, it’s important to plan meticulously and search for these two separate flights nearly simultaneously online to align your arrival time in Washington with the departure time of the transcontinental flight. The same applies to your return journey. Keep in mind that these will be two separate tickets. We’ve tried this approach and it works.
These tips and tricks are based on our firsthand experiences and insights shared by travel agencies and industry experts. We’ll continue to explore and share more ways to save on airfare.