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16 Travel Secrets to Always Get the Best Airfare Possible

Updated: Feb. 01, 2024

How to make the most of online travel agencies, price alerts, and special offers on every single trip.

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Know what a good deal looks like

Before you set off to find the best airfare possible, it’s important to understand what that fare looks like. For example, if the average peak-season rate is $350, you’re unlikely to find anything below $300. Times like these make it extra tricky to pick the best time to buy a plane ticket. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to find this information: “When to fly and buy” reports from hopper.com will tell you what price is a good deal for any given route. And Google Flights’ “tracked prices” feature will email you when the price of a selected itinerary has gone up or down.

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Book on the best day

You might have heard that Tuesdays are the best day to book a flight, but it turns out that’s totally a myth. Instead, find the best day of the week to book your particular route, according to thousands of past fares. Again, you’ll want to use hopper.com’s fare reports to find that data.

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Keep an eye on fares

Set up a price alert with an online travel agency, such as Skyscanner, Kayak, or Google Flights, as soon as possible. “It’s not only for the fare,” says George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com, “but for the seat.” Crowded flights could leave procrastinators in the dreaded middle seat, or with their families scattered across the plane.

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Book this many days ahead

According to a study by cheapair.com, you’ll want to book between three-and-a-half months and three weeks out for a domestic flight, and two months ahead for an international flight. Price alerts can help you find the absolute best time to book a flight for your particular trip.

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Check more than one online travel agency

Online travel agencies, such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity, can have wildly different deals. “There’s a misconception that every online travel agency [OTA] has the same fares,” says Hobica. “But because they sometimes cut special deals with the airlines, it’s worth it to check them all.” A site such as kayak.com will scan multiple agencies in one search.

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Remember the airlines that aren’t on OTAs

To get the best deal possible, you’ll need to check some airline’s deals yourself—as opposed to through an online travel agency. Delta has stopped working with certain OTAs, so make sure you’ve seen its fares for your itinerary before you book. And you’ll always have to check Southwest’s website for its fares. Make sure you’re not following these 10 travel tips that are no longer true.

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Book through the airline

If there’s not much difference in price between an airline’s fare and an OTA’s fare, book with the airline. In the event of a delay or a cancellation, you’ll need to go back to whoever issued your ticket to get rebooked, and you could be better off if you dealt with the airline directly rather than with a third-party agent, Explains Akash Gupta of thepointsguy.com.

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Don’t always book the family together

If you’re buying multiple tickets, search for them individually and as a group. Airline ticket prices are full of quirks, and sometimes individual seats are cheaper than a block. If you decide to buy individually, make sure there’s no per-ticket processing charge that would offset the savings.

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Fly when no one else wants to

For example, fliers who travel on Christmas morning to save an average of $50 per person compared with ­traveling on the Friday preceding the holiday. The same savings often apply to other holidays as well. Avoid these 9 common travel mistakes for the best vacation ever.

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Try an air + hotel bundle

Booking both at the same time may cost a lot less than booking separately. “If the hotel doesn’t have to show their price and the airlines don’t have to show their price, both are willing to give lower prices not available other­wise,” Tim Mac­Donald, former general manager of ­expedia.com, told the New York Times.

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Sign up for airlines’ newsletters

Airlines often offer discounts via email. Put your name on their lists and you’ll be in the know about promo codes, flash sales, and other special offers. We’ve seen discounts of up to 50 percent on certain airlines and routes.

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Don’t miss out on fare-drop refunds

Most airlines charge up to $200 to change flights, but Southwest will never charge a fee. That means you can reschedule a flight because of scheduling issues, or because you spotted a lower fare that you’d like to purchase instead. Before you head out, check out the 32 things your pilot won’t tell you.

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Don’t stop looking after you click buy

Continue to watch fares for an additional 24 hours after booking. The law requires airlines allow you to cancel your flight for free within this window of time. If the fare drops more than a few bucks, it might be worth it.

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Review your group memberships

AARP members get up to 10 percent off at many hotel chains and up to 25 percent off some car rentals. AAA offers similar deals. One surprising source of discounts: Costco. It offers its members deals on cars and hotels as well as on some excellent vacation packages. These are 13 things airlines don’t want to tell you—but every flier should know.

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Check out your employee benefits

Most employers offer airline, hotel, and car-rental discounts for employees. Talk to human resources to get the details. You might also be able to snag discounted tickets for shows and events.

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Pack light to avoid luggage fees

If you’re trying to save, you’ll want to avoid checking a bag. That means doing some strategic packing in your carry on. “I wear black almost exclusively when I travel,” says flight attendant Kara Mulder. If that feels too solemn for your trip, try planning your outfits around a cheerier color, say navy or khaki. The goal is to be able to mix and match a good number of outfits so you need fewer articles of clothing overall. These are the 16 air-travel tips you need to know before your next flight.