I recently flew from Las Vegas to New York, and during the 5-hour trip, the lady next to me said something like "Can you believe I paid nothing for this flight?" I pressed her for details, surprised and a little irate as I was, knowing that I forked over nearly $800 on something that someone next to me got for free. After a half-hour of chit-chat about everything from online travel deals to the best time to book flights, I found out that my neighbor was a travel aficionado, over several years has learned the intricacies of international travel, and understood what it took to fly for free-or, more reasonably, how to fly at discounted fares. One of the best ways to reduce your overall travel expense is to book your flight at strategic times, where the laws of demand and supply turn out in your favor.
Book Tuesday Mornings
I found that most airlines automatically adjust fare sales on Monday nights, giving ample time for competitors to match their prices no later than Tuesday morning. So if you shop around that time, you have a full plate of competitive prices to choose from, and you wouldn't feel as angry as I was after finding out that you paid, say, $150 more because you booked your flight on Monday night with a carrier that has not adjusted its price at the time you purchased the ticket.
Figure out the Plane's Capacity
Remember the laws of supply and demand I referred to earlier? They apply clearly when it comes to evaluating how full your flight is and by how much fares could potentially go down. Basically, fares are lower when the plane is way below capacity. To find out customer reservations on a particular flight, go through the entire booking process, and at the end, say "yes" when the system asks you whether you want to choose your seat. That way, you would see not only sections of the plane where seats are available, you also figure out whether the plane is at capacity or whether, say, 60% of seats are still unoccupied.
Prefer Tuesdays through Thursdays
I personally have noticed-and my Las Vegas-to-New York flight neighbor also confirmed-that you are better off flying from Tuesday through Thursday. These three days seem to be the best time to fly at discounted prices, but check that information with your airline. This is because things like destination as well as social, economic, and geopolitical factors might affect fares unfavorably, even on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
If you are a fare-conscious passenger, you should definitely not fly from Fridays through Sundays-even Mondays-because those days seem to draw the highest level of travel, not only domestic but also trans-continental.
Flying off-season is not just the domain of penny pinchers. In a modern-day economy in which every cent counts, don't feel guilty if you save a few dollars here and there by flying off-season while your friends and relatives hop on planes with gusto during periods as hectic as Spring Break, the Holiday Season, and the Labor Day weekend.
The whole idea is to save money, so call your favorite airline and find out what period qualifies as off-season and what is the fare range during that interval. This is because the definition of low-flying season varies by airline and destination, among others. For example, U.S. Airways defines September 1-30 as off-season for travel from North America to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Islands.
Track fare information that most airlines typically publish every day-or every hour on the busiest routes. Sign up for your favorite airline's newsletter and read every edition intently. Electronic newsletters are even better because you can book a flight right from your smart phone as soon as you see an interesting price range for a particular destination. I also suggest you call the airline's passenger help desk to learn more about pricing changes around the period during which you want to travel. If the fares proposed around that time are not affordable, ask the help desk representative to recommend an interval that offers lower-priced fares.
Use Web-based Flight Tools
Don't let anybody discourage you from using online search tools when shopping around for cheap flights. Granted, these tools often are slow, and like you, I hate those annoying out-of-nowhere pop-ups, too. But the beauty of tools such as Kayak, LowFares.com, Trip Advisor, and Fare Compare is that they call data from multiple sources and present it to you in nice, side-by-side comparative way. These flight data aggregators essentially perform the same tasks that are typically done by online travel agencies like Expedia.
Use Rewards, Discounts, Rebates-You Name it!
The main point here is the best time to fly, but I think you also need to remember that you can reduce even further an already cheap ticket if you use your credit or debit card. Talk to your bank or credit card company to learn more about ways to reduce your travel expenses as well as the best time to use your rewards. The way it works, you accumulate points when you use your card for purchases on things like restaurants, groceries, travel, and entertainment. Then, you can get cash back or apply the points to reduce your fare, receive VIP treatment at airport lounges, enjoy speedier bag checking, and upgrade your ticket to first class or business class.
Flight booking is a game, but if you play it well and understand the rules by which airlines are abiding, you can substantially diminish your overall travel budget. You could even fly free of charge-why not? The best time to book flights span from Tuesday through Thursday as well as during the off-peak season in the specific route you plan to take.