Updated on 08.28.14

#23: Airline Tickets

Trent Hamm

25 Rules to Grow Rich By

This is part of a series in which we re-evaluate Money Magazine’s “25 Rules To Grow Rich By”. One “rule” will be re-evaluated each weekday until the series concludes; you can keep tabs on the action at the 25 Rules index.

What’s the Best Way to Buy Airline Tickets?

Rule #23: Buy airline tickets early because the cheapest fares are snapped up first. Most seats go on sale 11 months in advance.

While this rule is generally true (the earlier you buy, generally the cheaper the ticket), there are a lot of other methods that are much better at improving your flight prices than this one. Take this list, for example, from how to buy cheap airline tickets on eHow:

STEP 1: Keep yourself updated on airfare wars by watching the news and reading the newspaper. Look for limited-time promotional fares from major airlines and airline companies just starting up.

STEP 2: Be flexible in scheduling your flight. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are typically the cheapest days to fly; late-night flights (‘red-eyes’), very early morning flights and flights with at least one stop tend to be discounted as well.

STEP 3: Ask the airline if it offers travel packages to save money in other areas. For instance, is a rental car or hotel room available at a discount along with the airline ticket?

STEP 4: Find out whether the stated fare is the cheapest, and inquire about other options when speaking to the airline reservations clerk. If you’re using the Internet, check more than one Web site and compare rates.

STEP 5: Inquire about standby fares if you’re flying off-season. High season is a bad time to fly standby because most airlines overbook flights, making it difficult to find a spare seat.

STEP 6: Purchase tickets through consolidators, who buy blocks of tickets and sell them at a discount to help an airline fill up all available seats. Check the travel section of the newspaper under ‘Ticket Consolidators.’

STEP 7: Book early. You can purchase advance-ticket discounts by reserving 21 days ahead; book even earlier for holiday flights, especially in November and December. Keep in mind that holiday ‘blackout periods’ may prevent you from using frequent-flier miles.

STEP 8: Stay with the same airline during your entire trip to receive round-trip or connecting fare discounts.

Each of these “steps” are quite useful in reducing your airline costs, but that’s a lot of information for one simple rule. Thankfully, these rules codify into one simple statement quite easily: buy early, compare rates, and be flexible.

Let’s rewrite that rule.

Rewritten Rule #23: Save money on airline tickets by buying early, comparing rates, and being flexible when it comes to carriers and options.

You can jump ahead to rule #24 or jump back to rule #22.

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  1. Amy says:

    I usually fly Northwest Airlines, and I’ve found that 6 weeks in advance is the cheapest time to buy. The prices actually drop steadily until 6-8 weeks out, then climb again. I use Northwest’s “check x days before/after” option, to see a grid of the lowest fares and which days are cheapest to fly. Thanksgiving day and Christmas day are always the cheapest holiday fares.

    I use Expedia/Orbitz/etc to compare fares, but they don’t have info on the low cost airlines, so I research those separately. And it’s still in beta, but Farecast looks useful if you live in/near a big city.

  2. Ellen says:

    It’s also worth signing up for frequent flyer programs with several major airlines. I fly with Northwest a lot, just because it’s a major carrier through my (small, regional) airport, and I get frequent–about weekly–ticket offers through e-mail that are often a THIRD of what are available in online searches.

    Checking into JetBlue and Southwest are also good options, although they don’t fly everywhere. They don’t show up on Orbitz/Hotwire/etc., but keep them on a list to check, if they happen to service an airport near you. (I wish the two of them ever connected at the same airport–I have one, and my parents have the other!–but they don’t, which lessens the convenience.)

  3. Watch out for change fees! If you book too early, you increase the chance that you will have to change the dates. Most airlines will stiff you $100! Southwest is the only airline I know that doesn’t charge a change fee.

  4. Kenny says:

    I rely on 2 sites when I look to travel, granted I always travel to the same location.
    1.) http://www.farecast.com/
    This site has been very useful for me since I always get a good view at the average price for a given trip.
    2.) http://www.travelocity.com/
    Their last minute packages (air + car or air + hotel) are amazingly priced but only good if you are traveling with 2 people since their packages are priced with 2 travelers in mind. For example their weekend trip to ATL from DC with a mid-size car is about $350 out the door for 2 people. That’s a price which is hard to beat.

  5. Lana says:

    I’ve worked as a travel agent and one thing I tell all my friends is that they need to be aware of any special fares they may be eligible for.

    If you’re a student (of any age, though some fares are restricted to certain ranges), under 26, a teacher, or married to someone who’s any of these things, you may qualify for specialty student/youth rates. (Even the teachers.)

    Also, a lot of tours skewed toward the “younger” crowd (under 35) offer better prices than traditional tour companies. For instance, traditional tours to exotic places like India or the Galopagos Islands can cost thousands of dollars, whereas tour companies that target a younger crowd offer tours under $1000, including accomodation, transportation, and some meals.

    One last thing–most airlines only forecast flights out 10 months, so it’s pointless to try and plan a trip over a year before you’ll take it. But at the same time, airlines price their fares by seats–meaning that if they have 10 seats at $300, once those are gone, the next cheapest may be 10 seats at $350, and so on. Buy up the cheaper fares when you can, because once they’re gone, you’re stuck paying more (and possibly sitting next to someone who potentially paid hundreds of dollars less than you did).

  6. Susan says:

    Unless I’m booking travel for a holiday weekend, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I usually start looking 6 weeks in and compare all sites and see if I can even shave off $5 in booking fees from one site. My best fare to date was flying from NY to Atl (stayed in Atlanta for 5 days) then Puerto Rico and back to NY for $250 including tax.

    Don’t forget to delete your cookies now and again, search with flex dates and nearby airports. Some sites will remember you and keep showing you fares you looked at before. Sherman’s Travel also has great last-minute deals.

    Check out more travel saving ideas at: http://www.theinnovativetraveler.com

  7. Susan says:

    Never be afraid to complain. A very specific complaint letter with legitimate concerns (rude staff, insane delays, habitual cancelling of flights) is effective. I’ve gotten many travel vouchers this way. At worst you’ll usually get $25 voucher or an in-airport coupon you can use to grab a meal.


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