Sign In

5 Ways to Save on Your Next Flight

Opt to travel when things are less busy, whether that's early in the morning, on a Tuesday, or during the off-season.
Updated
save on flight

Finding a good deal on airfare is becoming a complicated process. Ticket prices fluctuate constantly, while different fare categories and fees can make it difficult to understand exactly what you are — or aren't — getting. Finding a steal on airfare isn't impossible, though. We have five tips to help you get the best buy on your next flight.

Shop Around With a Search Engine

It's no surprise that with airfare, like everything else, you should comparison shop before you hand over your cash. Plenty of sites can help you find the cheapest fare by searching multiple airlines, suggesting less expensive days to travel, and emailing you when prices drop. Here are three of our favorites to get you started:

Google Flights
It automatically pulls up what it considers to be the best flights — typically those with the lowest cost and shortest duration — so you don't wind up with pages of search results.

Hipmunk
By showing results in a chart, Hipmunk lets you easily see when each flight takes off and lands to best fit your schedule. Hipmunk also sorts flights by "agony" level, a combination of price, the number of stops, and the travel duration; it's a good way to find a flight that won't make for a miserable start to your trip.

Expedia
This site clearly lists baggage fees to help you see the total cost. Google and Hipmunk provide links to baggage fees, but the prices aren't included with the rest of the flight info.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Airline Comparison Guide: Reviews, Restrictions, and Fees for 98 International Airlines

Another thing to consider is whether any nearby airports could work for you. For example, if you're flying to Los Angeles, you may think Los Angeles International is your only option, but four other major airports are in the area: Ontario International, John Wayne, Bob Hope, and Long Beach. You may find an alternate airport that's in a better location — and has a better ticket price, too. Both Expedia and Google let you easily check nearby airports, but won't do it automatically. (Click "nearby airports" in Expedia or the plus sign next to the airport name in Google.)

Also consider bundling your flight and hotel purchase for big savings. If you're looking for a hotel anyway, it's worth checking to see if a bundle is your best deal.

Pick the Right Time to Fly

When you leave can have as much of an impact on ticket price as which airline you choose. The general rule of thumb is that you'll find cheaper fares during less-busy times of year (or times of week or even times of day). The first thing to do is consider when you're taking your vacation; it's often more expensive to travel during the summer and holidays when everyone else is doing the same.

The best days to travel are typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday (with Thursday being a toss-up).

However, traveling in the off-season is usually cheaper — and as a bonus, hotel rates are typically cheaper, too. (Though be warned, the off-season is also when hotels and vacation destinations typically do any refurbishing because fewer people are there.) Just remember, what's considered "off-season" varies based on your destination. For example, while summer is a busy season for many tourist destinations, Las Vegas is quieter during that time due to the intense desert heat.

You'll want to pick the right day to travel, too. Again, the goal is to fly when fewer people are traveling, which means you'll benefit from lower fares and fewer crowds. The best days are typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday (with Thursday being a toss-up). All of the travel search engines we mentioned above will check for cheaper days to travel — and if your schedule is flexible, it can be well worth shifting your plans a day or two. Less desirable hours of the day can be cheaper as well, like extremely early morning and extremely late evening.

And Pick the Right Time to Book

Airline prices are constantly changing. Sometimes you can score a deal by booking very early — but other times you end up missing out on later sales. Sometimes booking late means you're seriously overpaying — but other times it means snagging a last-minute bargain. These price trends can vary based on the airline and destination, making them tough to keep track of. However, the usual ideal is to book two to three months in advance.

And, while it's not a surefire way to find low fares, many airlines update their pricing in the middle of the week based on what's selling, so booking between Tuesday and Thursday could result in a cheaper flight.

Know Your Fare Types

Every airline has a selection of different fare categories, from modest economy to lavish first class. But some fare classes aren't quite so obvious. What's the difference between United Airlines' Economy and Basic Economy? The carrier has made waves lately for its new Basic Economy fare, which doesn't let passengers pick seats or store a bag in the overhead bin. It's a restriction that sounds like a cash grab, but United isn't the only airline that doesn't include carry-ons in its base fare — Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit charge as well.

SEE ALSO: 7 Features to Consider When Buying Carry-On Luggage

For some travelers, these fares could even be a cost savings. If you just bring a bag that fits under your seat or check a bag, you have the option of paying less. But getting a deal requires finding the fare that fits your needs the best.

Know Your Fees

Some airlines lure you in with cheap fares before tacking on fees that make for a very pricey flight. Baggage fees are the best known — often around $25 per checked bag, with additional charges for oversize or overweight bags — but there are plenty of fees that can hurt your pocketbook:

Seat selection fees Seats with more legroom or in more desirable locationscan cost up to $100.

Carry-on bags: While most airlines still offer two carry-ons for free, some charge from $15 to $50, like on Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and United (depending on fare type). Spirit even charges $100 for a bag you decide to check at the gate.

Drinks: Allegiant and Spirit don't even offer water for free.

Snacks and other food: These can vary a lot in price — but are certainly more expensive to buy on the plane than to bring from home or buy at the airport. (American, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest still offer complimentary snacks, though.)

While some of these fees are avoidable — say, by packing carefully, so you don't need a large carry-on that goes in the overhead bin — if you know you're going to pay a fee, it's often best to pay it in advance. Many airlines offer discounts for paying up front, with higher prices at the check-in desk. You could also investigate different fare classes; if you plan to pay for more legroom, is it cheaper to just book business class instead?

Readers, what are your best tips for saving on flights? Let us know in the comments!


Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
Leave a comment!

or Register
3 comments
snaimpally
If an airline has a hub at an airport near you so that you end up taking many flights on that airline, it is worth checking out the credit card associated with the airline. For example, American offers priority boarding and one free checked bag if you get their branded credit card. Such perks can justify paying an annual fee for the card.
ski522
I've learn that cheap flights are not worth if the misery level is high! 10 hours of flying time with connections to save $50 verses a 4 hour direct flight is well worth paying the $50 more!
vivRichards
Hopper ( http://www.hopper.com/ ) is also a good app to consider. It "watches" your trip and notifies you about price change and advise you when to buy tickets.