Gena wrote us here at Traveling Mamas, asking for advice on finding the cheapest airline tickets. As someone who flys frequently, I get asked that question a lot.
I’m sorry to have to tell you all this, but my big secret is that there is no one secret to finding cheap airfare.
My “secret” really just comes down to doing my homework. Every flying situation is different – there are times when you have to be somewhere on certain dates, and there are times when you can be flexible.
Here are the steps I take to get the cheapest airfare:
1. The first thing I do when I need to buy a plane ticket is search the ITA matrix. Everyone who travels frequently has their own “favorite” place to do an initial search for flights – some common ones are Kayak, Bing and Orbitz. But ITA is the data clearinghouse that supplies all the other search engines. So, I prefer to go to the source.
Searching at ITAsoftware will give you a pretty comprehensive look at what’s available, and the fare ranges can be huge. Look at this search I just did for JFK to Bermuda. The fares range from $292 to $880 for the same route.
2. If I find an airfare I like, or at least one I can live with, I check the Price Predictor at Bing to see if now is the right time to buy. Farecaster is a tool that looks at the history of airfares and figures the probability of the fare going up or down.
It tells you whether to buy now or wait, and even gives you a level of confidence in its prediction. On this one, I would definitely wait:
3. If it’s time to buy, I typically go to the airline’s Web site to see if the same fare is available there. If it is, I buy directly through the airline rather than through a search engine. This just streamlines the process for me and helps avoid any additional booking fees that might be tacked on.
If Farecaster strongly advises me to wait, I rinse and repeat in a few days.
I should note here that I don’t always find the best deal. No one does. There are circumstances where we must go on certain days, or arrive at certain times, and there’s just not a good deal to be had.
But for me, those are the exceptions, not the rule. I have found that if I’m willing to work to find the cheapest airline tickets, I do pretty well. Check out my post with 5 more tips on finding the cheapest airline tickets.
Just like the old saying that it takes money to make money, what I’ve found is that it takes time to save it.