Sniffing Out the Best Flight Deals

This post is brought to you by Chelle Roberts of BrownGirlsFly and myHabanero.com.

1) The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get The Juiciest Worm
Most airlines allow you to buy tickets 6 months to a year in advance. But, that far out, prices tend to be pretty high and if you book too soon, you’ll be sure to miss out on some juicy discounts. Over the years, we’ve learned that the travel-booking sweet spot is 3 months to 3 weeks before your desired departure. Within that range, here are a few other things to keep in mind.

• When planning a visit to a popular destination or during peak travel times (think Disney during Christmas break), give yourself more leeway. Airlines typically run sales 3 months out (i.e. Christmas sales often hit in September) and as those seats start filling up, prices will rise sharply during the months that follow.
• For other destinations and times of year, you can afford to wait a little longer. But, remember, all good things do eventually come to an end. At the 21-day mark, discounted fares disappear and prices often skyrocket after that.

While you’re waiting for the sweet spot to hit, be sure to familiarize yourself with the average fares available – how else will you recognize a good fare when you see it? Then, start tracking the fares and when you see a good one, pounce on it! Our favorite tools to help you track fares include:

Airfare Watchdog – sign up for their daily emails detailing the best fares departing from your home and nearby airports. They often share great tips on unpublished sale fares.
Travelocity FareWatcher Plus – sign up for a free account, pick up to 10 cities and receive an email when the fare reaches the price range you’re seeking.
YAPTA – Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant is poised to track fares before and after you book a flight.

2) The Late Bird Can Sometimes Find Yummy Leftovers
Sometimes, last minute decisions are unavoidable. If you find yourself in this situation, all hope is not lost. Empty seats and empty sheets are lost opportunities for travel operators. So, it’s usually better for them to sell a seat or hotel room at a deep discount than it is to leave it empty. If you’re in need of a last minute deal, try these tips:

• Check out the weekend web-only fares published by most airlines on Tuesday or Wednesday each week. You might just find your desired destination on the list. You can even subscribe to their weekly e-mail blasts to stay on top of your options.
• Check out the Smarter Travel Last Minute trip finder. You can search by departure or arrival city, making it easy to consider and compare different paths to your destination.
LastMinute.com offers last minute package deals including airfare, hotel, rental or any combination of the three. If you’ve only be able to find flights outside your price range, visit this site and search for a package combo. You’d be surprised; you can sometimes grab a flight with a weekend-long car rental, cheaper than booking a flight directly with the airlines. To see how this tip has helped us to personally save hundred dollars, check out this post detailing our previous experience with LastMinute.com.

3) The Most Flexible Birdie Wins
Weekend getaways are fabulous. Leave on a Friday afternoon and return early Monday morning. Using only a few hours of vacation time, you can get away for a few days and return refreshed. However, the airlines know that this is exactly what you’re thinking. And, with the exception of a few focused travel sales, these times are inevitably the most expensive options.

If you have some scheduling flexibility, look for the following flights departing and/or returning Tuesday through Thursday, flights departing in the early morning and flights with long layovers. Sometimes the inconvenience can save you a few more dollars.

4) Knock Out Two Birds With One Stone
Make sure you sign up for the airline frequent flier programs. While you won’t see the discounts up front, every trip you take now, will help earn you benefits for a future trip. Think of it as opening a travel savings account. And, as is the case with cash accounts, you just have to commit to it and be diligent about it, and the rewards will come. In the coming weeks, we’ll share more specific recommendations when it comes to frequent flier programs. But, for now, just remember that it’s a necessity.

¡Buen Viaje!
Chelle Roberts, BrownGirlsFly

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