As a young, independent traveler, one of my top priorities is keeping my costs down. Booking airfare is one of the places where I can really save money if I do it right. As with most budget tips, it helps to be flexible with your plans and willing to put in some time figuring out how to do things cheaply.
1.) Figure out what a good deal should be. That way, you won’t miss one when you see it! Ask your friends how much it costs them to make similar trips, check Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc… and figure out what the general range you can expect to pay is. I like using Kayak.com, because it compares several websites at once.
2.) Book ahead… but not too far ahead. I used to buy my tickets a full year ahead, as soon as they came on sale. Now, I usually aim to buy them about two-three months ahead of my trip. Booking too close to your departure date can be risky – you might end up having to pay a lot more than you want to! On the other hand, booking a year ahead, I usually paid reasonable prices, but never found good deals.
3.) Prepare to spend some time searching. I usually spread my ticket search over about a week, spending maybe half an hour a day checking different websites and airlines. Things can change a surprising amount within a week.
4.) Plan your trip around your airfare. Since, on a budget trip, airfare will probably be your biggest expense, pick your exact travel dates and maybe even locations based on where you can get the lowest fares. Flying in the middle of the week is usually much cheaper than flying on a weekend, and flying into and out of the same city on a round trip is almost always cheaper than using a more open-ended ticket.
5.) If you are a student, try Studentuniverse.com or look for other student only discounts. Sometimes I don’t find any deals on Studentuniverse – other times it has saved me a few hundred dollars on a big flight.
6.) Look on the airline’s own website. After you find a cheap fare on a site like Expedia, go to the airline’s official website and plug in the same information. You’ll usually find the same price, minus the third party’s booking fees.
7.) Make sure you don’t cut corners that will cost you more in the end. If flying to another airport in the same city saves you a few dollars on airfare, but ends up costing you 50$ extra in taxi charges, it’s not a deal. Also consider how much luggage the airline allows, and how much it will charge you if you go over.