In my line of work with Heroes at Home, we visit military bases around the world with a show about financial literacy. I also
travel when visiting my kids all over the country (and other countries). Just last week, I flew with my husband to New York to see our son at his ring weekend and then headed to Vance AFB in Enid, OK. This week our team is going to Luke AFB (flying into Phoenix), then Los Angeles Air Force Base the week after that. I’ll wrap up the month in Washington DC with a board meeting for Military Family Advisory Network. I am constantly buying tickets (both international and domestic), and I am always looking for the best deals. Airlines make money from anticipating our buying habits, and here are a few tips I use to anticipate the airlines:
- Know the best time in advance to book tickets: Though it is wise to start looking early, it is possible that you could be shopping too early. According to studies cited by The New York Times, international flights have been the cheapest 3-5 months in advance, but there is variation among different regions. Domestic flights are a bit trickier to pin-point, but it’s a good idea to start searching 3-4 months in advance and see if they get any cheaper week after week. There have been studies indicating a 5-6-weeks-in-advance sweet spot for domestic flight booking. Hopper is a site and app that has a helpful flight-prediction tool that suggests whether prices are expected to go up, down or remain the same, based on historical data and can help you save up to 40%.
- When to buy According to farecompare, the cheapest day to buy tickets is Tuesday afternoon, 3 pm EST. Certain airlines, like Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue roll out their best deals Monday night, so Tuesday is, by rule of thumb, the best day to shop. Wednesday is generally the second best day to buy tickets.
- When to fly: Flexibility is always the key to the best-priced ticket. We know there are days when you have to be out (usually for vacations like spring break or summer vacation), but keep in mind that you will have to pay for it. Rule of thumb is that Sundays are the most expensive days to fly, whereas the cheapest day to fly is Wednesday. Tuesday and Saturday are also good days, so you might want to think about shifting around your departure or return.
- Sign up for fare alerts: If you don’t have that 5-6 week window and need to book a flight last minute, watch for flight sale alerts through online travel agencies (OTAs), airline websites, or the bible of airfare price alerts, Airfare Watchdog. If your schedule is flexible, subscribe to airfare alerts to jump on airfare sales when they happen. Airfare Watchdog has them, as well as Travelzoo, Cheapoair, Hotwire, and Expedia. Flash-sale sites like Jetsetter, and SniqueAway can also alert you of savings that aren’t published far and wide.
- Don’t forget the discount airlines: Southwest is one of my favorite no-frills airlines, and I usually spend the extra cost to get the earlybird (early check-in). “Potentially lower ticket prices” is important here — because low cost airlines don’t always have the cheapest ticket prices nor the best schedules — their legacy airline brethren aggressively match on competitive routes, so do you homework and check both. By subscribing to their deals, I also get notification when points go on sale and just last week, I purchased points where I got 60% more points as a bonus! Also be sure and check airline bag fees to make sure you are actually spending less because southwest has bags #1 and #2 flying free.
- Exceptions to every rule: With all that said, holiday travel is usually the exception to every rule. If you know you are traveling or flying out your children for the holidays, buy that as soon as possible. Keep checking price alerts and buy when the price is just below average.
- But wait, there’s more: After you purchase your ticket, don’t unsubscribe from those email alerts! Continue watching those prices just in case they drop significantly below what you paid. If that happens, use Yapta to help you get a refund from your airline. Then subscribe to unroll.me to have all those email alerts dropped into ONE notification email where you can easily unsubscribe to any site in one click.
Up next month: a trip to DigitalMilEx at USAA followed by a trip to Dallas to see grandson Liam’s 2nd birthday!
Don’t spend your money on THINGS, spend it on EXPERIENCES.
What are your favorites ways to save on travel?
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)