Secrets of Getting the Best Airfare

Window seat cropped

Getting the window seat may be important if you want to take photos

Some people won’t accept anything less than white-glove service. Some just want to get to a destination at the lowest cost. Either way, no one wants to get ripped off spending more than necessary. Generally, you get what you pay for, but not always. Sometimes the person sitting next to you on the airplane paid a quarter of what you did. So how can we learn what the bottom line is?

The first thing to know is that flying round trip is usually cheaper, but not always. So always check one-way pricing too. Also, if traveling with other people, it may be best to book each reservation separately. I have found that I can get one ticket for less than two sometimes when there is only one low-priced seat left.

Conversely, sometimes if you are only going one-way, it might pay to buy a round trip ticket and just throw out the return ticket.

Next, are you going to need to check luggage? If so, the cost of doing so should factor into your pricing. Some low-cost airlines charge extra for checked baggage and don’t allow large carry-on bags.

I start with what is called the “ITA Matrix.” I search it to ferret out the lowest fares. Do a Google search to find it. Options include the number of stops that are acceptable to you and whether your travel date is flexible. Pricing tends to be lower for Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday travel. There are many other variables. For this reason, it is somewhat confusing for many people. Two caveats: The system does not cover all airlines, such as Southwest and discount airlines abroad, and the system does not account for baggage costs.

As the search begins on ITA Matrix, you get an option to check Google Flights. Do it. It’s also a good way to find a good fare and a little simpler to use.

Other sites worth searching are kayak.com, vayama.com and momondo.com. The latter two are especially good for flights on discount airlines in other countries.

No matter what system you use, make sure your reservation has exactly the same name as on your government ID, such as driver’s license or passport. I have had the unfortunate experience of having to correct an incorrect spelling on a ticket as issued. Even though the mistake was made by vayama.com, I still had to pay extra to get it fixed.

Once you have located your best option, go directly to the airline website and see if it exists there, using the same flights. If it does, it is always best to book directly with the airline. If you have frequent flyer memberships, this will track your flight best. The airline website is the place to check on any baggage fees. If they are high, you might want to book a different airline.

One caveat to booking on the airline website is the airline “hold” policy. American Airlines has a free one day hold. But United charges a small fee to hold a price for three days.

If the airline website does not have a free or nearly free policy to hold a ticket and you still need time to check arrangements on the other end — such as hotel and car reservations or whether your sister is going to be home — then the hold option is important. Here’s what you should do instead of using the airline website: book the ticket with Travelocity. It is the only large booking service that by policy allows cancellation of reservations within 24 hours without charge.

Now that you’ve got your ticket on hold, check back on the next day and repeat the process all over again. You may find that the fare has decreased. If so, start anew. Airlines are continuously repricing their tickets to adjust to demand, especially as the day of departure gets closer.

You can tell how full the flight is by trying to reserve your seat on the flight. If there are many seats, I find that the possibility the airline will reduce the cost sometime in the future is good. It may not happen during your hold, of course, but you could decide to book later. Also, if you must have a window seat, and there are none available, you may want to book another flight.

Airlines most frequently adjust pricing on Mondays. Copycat price matching occurs on Tuesday. So holding a ticket on Monday is the best bet as you may have a chance to book at a lower fare the next day … if you follow my advice.

2 Comments

  1. Great information! I use some of the same strategies, but was not aware of many of these. Here’s another way to check to see how full a flight is. Some airlines let you choose your seat before requiring payment, so you can see the seats that are not available in the selected cabin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *