Airfares continue to rise as the price of jet fuel increases exponentially. Still, if staying close to home this summer is not in your family’s plans, there are ways to save money on airfare…if you know where to look. Below are a few tips:
1. Book early in the morning. Early risers have an advantage when booking airfare. Most air carriers load their new fares at midnight, so a savvy traveler can snag the best deals by checking in the wee hours of the morning. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, however. The time zone used is usually the one for the carrier’s headquarters city. For United Airlines, that means the Central time zone; for Southwest Airlines, it’s Pacific time; and for Delta Airlines and USAirways, it’s Eastern time.
2. Check out the charters. Charter flights, entire planes reserved by tour companies, often offer attractive prices. Some companies require you to purchase your hotel arrangements with the flight, but many sell air transportation alone. You’ll find charter flights from major airports to popular vacation destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando and South Florida. These flights are usually non-stop, but offered on a much more limited basis than scheduled flights. Tour companies offering chartered flights include Apple Vacations and FunJet Vacations. Check the travel section of your Sunday newspaper for charters in your area.
3. Don’t forget the packages. A Tour package doesn’t have to mean a bus full of people over 50. Today, “tour” can simply mean two or more travel components bundled together. Often these packages are less expensive than buying the airfare and hotel separately. Occasionally, they are cheaper than buying just the airfare. If so, set aside the hotel voucher and take advantage of the flight savings. It pays to check. Tour packages are available from airline tour desks as well as tour operators such as GoGo Worldwide Vacations.
4. Consider two separate flights. This trick only works occasionally, but it’s worth considering and is best illustrated using an example. Say you are flying from Detroit to Kansas City, changing planes in St. Louis. Buying a roundtrip ticket between Detroit and St. Louis and another roundtrip ticket between St. Louis and Kansas City might be less expensive than buying the roundtrip ticket between Detroit and Kansas City. Something to consider when buying your tickets this way: if you check your luggage, you’ll need to claim and recheck it in the connecting city (St. Louis in our example) or stick with a carry-on bag.
5. Check alternate airports. Several weeks ago, we posted about the savings offered by using alternate airports. For instance, if you live in Cleveland, you might pay less by flying out of Akron. Similarly, if you live in New Orleans, check the fare from Baton Rouge, or if you live in Chicago, check the airfare from Milwaukee. There are examples of alternate airports all over the US, and often the price difference is dramatic if you’re willing to drive a little to get to the airport.
6. Book early. Contrary to popular belief, the best airfares generally go to those who make their reservations well in advance of their departure. This is especially true during peak travel times, like spring break and Christmas time. Most major airlines, such as United Airlines and Delta Airlines, will also refund the difference in airfare if your ticket price goes down after you purchase it but before you travel so there’s little risk in buying your ticket in advance. If the price goes down, you’ll usually have to call and request a refund, but Orbitz checks this for its customers and automatically sends a check if the ticket price decreases. Those who book early also get the best schedules and the best choice of seat assignments.
7. Book late. If you can’t book early, then waiting until the last minute has its advantages…if you’re flexible. Several airlines, United, Delta and USAirways included, offer last minute Internet airfare specials on Tuesday mornings for travel that same weekend. Not all cities are offered each week and seats are limited. Still, the prices are sometimes 30 percent lower than the advance purchase fares. (We post the weekly Internet airfare specials here at KCL every Tuesday.)