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Tips for Buying Airfare

Yesterday my daughters were playing inside, and do you want to know what they were playing? Airplane! In our household that means they pack suitcases and get on a plane to go visit various family members or attractions. The airplane is typically an upside-down laundry basket or elaborate chair configuration, and they travel quickly and easily with a simple wave goodbye to me. Don’t you wish adult air travel was as simple as that? Unfortunately we can’t just spontaneously set up a plane for travel. We need to plan and buy tickets in order to fly the friendly skies. So here are some tips I’ve learned about buying airfare.

  • As soon as you decide to take a trip, check flight prices so you know a reference point. If you don’t know where the prices are at, it makes it hard to determine what a good price is.
  • I really like going to Bing Travel to search for my flights. They have a fare predictor for major airports which looks at previous prices and trends in airfare to predict if you should buy now or wait.
  • I also sign up at FareCompare and Airfarewatchdog for fare alerts for my route. These sites “watch” your route for you and alert you to deals.
  • Traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday will typically give you the best fare.
  • It seems that booking 6 weeks prior to travel is considered a good time for sales. However, sometimes you need to book 3-6 months out if you’re planning to travel during peak times. Airfare is also tightly joined with oil prices, so if gas prices are high, airfare is likely to be high as well. If you’re planning to fly in the summer, be prepared for higher flight prices. I’ve regularly paid $70-$100 more on a route in the summer than what it was other times in the year.
  • Tuesday afternoons are considered the best time to book your tickets. Typically, an airline will begin a sale on Monday, and other airlines will come out with matching sales on Tuesday. Weekends have historically been the most expensive time to buy airfare. However, this is just a pattern, not definitive.
  • Always compare cancellation and change policies on your purchase. Booking companies (such as Expedia or Orbitz) might have a completely different policy than the airline does. Book with whoever you feel has the best pricing and policy for your family.
  • Consider signing up for the airline miles (points) program, especially if you fly often. Sometimes you can earn bonus miles (points) if you book directly with an airline on their website. Miles can often be used for things other than air travel if you don’t fly enough for that. For example, Alaska Air has magazine subscriptions you can order with miles.

So unless you own a Boeing factory and runway, and there’s a pilot in the family, you’ll have to buy airfare if you want to fly for your vacation. Use these tips the next time you book your air travel, and you’ll be sure to get a great price.

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