The airfare for your family vacation to Orlando, Florida, cost you $500 a person. Your friend snagged tickets there during the same week for nearly half the price. What gives?
It may not be pure luck, according to Rick Seaney, the founder of farecompare.com, an airline ticket comparison site.
“There are ways to save on airfare, but you have to know the tricks,” he said. Here, he shares his top ones.
Pick your travel days wisely.
If you’re traveling within the United States, flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will get you the lowest airfare because there are fewer fliers on these days, Seaney said.
“You can save between 10 and 40 percent per ticket, if not more, compared to a Monday, Friday and Sunday, when air traffic is heavier,” he said. (Thursday falls between the two categories.)
If you can’t both depart and return on the cheapest days, you still get half the savings if you pick one for your inbound or outbound flight. For trans-Atlantic flights, Monday through Thursday are the cheapest, though the savings are only around 5 percent compared with Friday through Sunday.
Shop ahead, but not too far.
For domestic travel, buy your ticket three months before your departure date; for trans-Atlantic travel, buy five months beforehand. Any further in advance has no benefit, according to Seaney, because airlines have not yet included cheap seats as part of their inventory. But be sure to buy 30 days before departure because prices increase substantially thereafter. The exception to this rule is if you plan to travel over a busy holiday period, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Airlines don’t offer discounts during the holidays, so it’s best to buy your ticket as soon as possible.
The golden time: Tuesday at 3 p.m.
The airline departments that create fare sales usually do so on Monday afternoons. These sales are then distributed to travel sites such as Expedia.com and also posted on the airline’s own site. Competing airlines see these sales the next morning and adjust their fares accordingly, and final sale pricing hits reservations systems at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
“This is when you get the maximum number of cheap seats,” Seaney said. Most of these sales last only for three days, so don’t procrastinate.
Buy as if you’re going solo.
Reservation systems at airlines and travel sites sell tickets at the same price to all the fliers on one reservation. If you’re buying airfare for your family of four, for example, it does not matter if the airline has three seats for sale in a lower price category and the fourth at a higher one.
“All the travelers under the reservation will automatically get the higher price, and you won’t know that there are cheaper tickets available,” Seaney said.
To find out for sure, he advised shopping for one flier at a time to see if there is a price difference compared to buying multiple tickets together. If there is, make separate purchases to get as many lower-cost tickets as possible.