How do I get the best possible fare on air fare?
November 1, 2006 9:34 PM   Subscribe

What are the "tricks of the trade" when it comes to getting the cheapest airfare possible?

Besides getting into the airmiles programs, how do I know when to book my ticket? Here is the situation that sparks my concern mostly:

I'm going to Florida, (Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando) to be with my girlfriend for Valentines day. I will be leaving from Ohio, (Canton Akron or CAK is my closest airport, I also use PIT and CLE).

Today is November 1st and Valentine's day is 3 1/2 months away. But the tickets are currently in the low $300 range. I travel to Ft. Lauderdale pretty often and the aveage price I see ranges from $150 - $200 round trip.

I know airlines post specials every now and then but I guess my main question is when and where should I start looking to find a good fare for a certain date?
posted by mi6op to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
(I am in no way affiliated with these folks...) I've had some fantastic success with these two sites for getting both international and domestic airfares:

Airfare Watchdog
posted by barnacles at 9:42 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you can fly Southwest, you can get pretty good deals through their Ding program. Unfortunately, you can usually only buy that way a month or so in advance. Southwest also usually has the cheapest fares to the cities I fly to (YMMV). is a web service that purports to have an algorithm that gives you a good recommendation on whether to hold out for better prices or buy now.

Comparison sites, like Mobissimo can help, but watch out, because they don't always search all airlines (JetBlue and Southwest are two notables that are generally excluded).

Finally, there's a program called TripStalker that has the internet all a-buzz. I've never tried it, but the gist is that it monitors the airline sites and notifies you when the price gets below a certain threshold.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:45 PM on November 1, 2006

Oh, and the Flyertalk forums contain more information than you'll ever want to know about rewards programs, cheap flights, tricks of the trade, etc.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:07 PM on November 1, 2006

You may find this recently published ebook useful: Take Control of Booking a Cheap Airline Ticket. At $10 it's presumably the kind of thing that can pay for itself rather quickly. I have no experience of this book (it only covers domestic and international flights originating in the US). However, I have bought a couple of Take Control's ebooks (they have a good line in OS X books), and do recommend the publisher.
posted by caek at 1:38 AM on November 2, 2006

Airlines only let you search for deals within their parameters - they'll show you such-and-such fares at such-and-such price, and that's it.

You can beat them in two ways -

1) Search for multiple destinations and multiple airports on multiple dates at once to give yourself an information advantage, something like the ITAsoftware month long search. Here is a link to the relevant help page on their website - ten minutes of reading about their code system will save you heaps.

FareCompare also has a tool that hooks into GoogleMaps to let you see the cheapest deals from your home airport to wherever. Is it cheaper, perhaps, to fly to Airport X in Florida and then rent a car and drive to Orlando? Maybe. They've got some neat articles too.
(PS - I know I recommend these websites all the time, but I'm not affliated with them in any way.)

2) Outwit their perceptions of what's convenient for you. Is it cheaper to fly two one-ways on different airlines, via a random city, at a random time? Go for it.

PPS - Flyertalk is amazing and free to join.

PPPS - Here's a nonstop flight from Akron to Orlando for $228, leaving the 12th (Delta) and coming home the !7th (AirTran).
posted by mdonley at 3:32 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite] seems pretty good to me. similar to others above, i'm sure. i think it searches them all.
posted by gregoryc at 3:33 AM on November 2, 2006

double oops. this one will work. promise.
posted by gregoryc at 3:39 AM on November 2, 2006

As a travel agent, I thought I'd pass on what I know. There is no rhyme or reason to airline tickets. Prices rise and fall weekly, daily and even hourly. Airlines will sometimes reduce fares on specific routes, days or even specific planes to fill seats, generate interest, etc. They may also raise rates on a certain flight to increase average revenue per seat.

The cheapest fares are almost always online, rather than on the phone with the airline or through a travel agent. Search engines (kayak, expedia, mobissimo, etc.) can be helpful but results are often inaccurate or even incomplete. In addition to using those sites, it helps to know what airlines have many flights on the routes you're interested in, and checking their sites directly. After you do some research on their web site, call the airline yourself... give the rep the flights you are considering and ask them to see if they can find you a cheaper option by going earlier or later in the day or a day or two earlier.... or even through a different connecting city.

Also - many airlines (definitely American) will let you book tickets and hold them online for 24 hours. This gives you the chance to hold the flights while you look around for another day to see if you can find anything cheaper.

Flights between US cities are sometimes more expensive during the week because most travelers are business flyers who have to fly regardless of the price. So the airlines reduce the fares on the weekends for leisure travelers. Of course this is not always the case, but it's common.

There's also no rhyme or reason about when to buy. Sometimes you get a better deal buying far in advance, sometimes you can get lucky with a ticket a month in advance when the airline needs to fill seats. The only remedy to this is to become familiar with fares for routes you expect to fly (or that you travel often). This way you'll know a good fare when you see it.

Of course it goes without saying to sign up for all the frequent flyer programs and newsletters from the airlines. When airlines lower rates they want people to buy, so they e-mail the details to all their subscribers.

Hope that helps
posted by kdern at 6:35 AM on November 2, 2006

Flights between US cities are sometimes more expensive during the week because most travelers are business flyers who have to fly regardless of the price. So the airlines reduce the fares on the weekends for leisure travelers.

This is definitely not the case on low-cost airlines like Southwest. Since most of their customers are traveling on their own dime, they do the opposite. Weekend flights, which are in-demand, cost more, and middle of the week will set you back less.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:16 AM on November 2, 2006

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