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Tips for Finding the Best Airfare Deals Online

By (view all posts by ShoppinHolly)
at 8:54AM Tuesday August 24, 2010
under Money Saving Tips

Searching for affordable flights can feel even more overwhelming than the packing and traveling that follow, especially for travelers who aren't satisfied until they know they have paid the absolute rock bottom price. Fortunately, a focused search of five or six websites, plus knowing the fees that can raise airfare costs at the end of your purchase, can lead travelers to the lowest priced online tickets to and from any destination--without spending hours or days to do it.

Try these tips:
Fly on lower cost days.

Generally, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days to fly. Weekends are more costly, though discounted fares are often offered on Saturdays. Many sites allow visitors to check airfares for the ideal dates of travel, alongside rates for surrounding days. Kayak, JetBlue, and Southwest all show back-to-back dates and rates. Use sites like this as a first step to help gear your search toward less costly dates for your trip. Choosing the right day of the week to fly can often save $50 or more each way.

Use flight coupon codes.

Save $25 to $300 off airline tickets using codes as you reserve your tickets online. Current examples include a JetBlue coupon code that takes $300 off airfare to the Bahamas, CheapOAir coupons for $15 to $25 off flights through most major airlines, and OneTravel discounts up to $25 off most domestic and international flights. Sometimes if you book tickets for two, you get twice the savings on these sites (but not always). If you need a hotel along with you flight, you can find Southwest Vacations and Funjet offers for $75 to $100 or more off a travel package.

Compare rates on several sites.

Start your search for airfares on booking sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, as well as Kayak.com, a search aggregator that displays prices for many travel sites where visitors can book directly. (Kayak displays fares from Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, but the rates can differ slightly, so it's worth checking each directly.) Survey these sites, and identify one or two airlines with the lowest rates to your destination. Then, visit the airline websites directly to double check the rates. Why do that when you just saw their fares on Kayak and Expedia? In the past, users have noted that some options for connecting flights were missing from search results on Kayak and other sites, but were displayed on the airline's direct website. Finally, Southwest offers low prices but does not submit fares to sites like Kayak. So double check their rates, particularly for flights to and from Southwest hubs like Chicago and Las Vegas.

Include taxes and fees as you compare.

A $90 ticket on JetBlue.com may cost more at checkout than a $135 ticket on Orbitz. How? Taxes and fees. Sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Orbitz show taxes and fees upfront--so at checkout, you pay the initial price that was displayed. However, most airline sites add taxes and fees later during the checkout process; therefore the final price is about $25 to $35 more per passenger than the intial ticket price displayed. For a family of four, that adds about $150 to the cost of airfare. How do you know the actual final price? It is typically confirmed right before a credit card payment is required.

Save on checked luggage.

Checked luggage now incurs another fee that quickly turns a $90 flight into a $120 cost. For the first checked bag, passengers now pay $15 to $25 on most airlines, and more for additional pieces. (Kayak updates a list of airline fees.). Exceptions are JetBlue, which allows one free checked bag, and Southwest allowing two. A couple pays about $50 in fees with one checked suitcase each, while a family of four might pay an extra $100. Note that Spirit charges for checked luggage plus a hefty $30-45 for carry-ons that do not fit under the seat. Is there any way to avoid these fees? Not currently. However, many airlines do offer online bag checking, which usually costs less than checking luggage at the airport.

Get discounts with airline credit cards.

Many carriers offer $25 to $50 credits on first flights to new users of airline credit cards. Sometimes this total roughly equals the annual fee of the card, but not always. Also, the interest can be high--so to truly save by opening a card, the flight purchased would need to be paid off almost immediately. Current offers include these: Southwest Chase card $50 credit on first ticket, a similar JetBlue American Express credit of $50, and a United Airlines $25 credit with card sign up. Two of the best offers right now are AirTran Visa cardholder's two $50 certificates yearly, and Hawaiian Airlines cardholder credit of 25% off for two. These offers can be buried in the airline's website, but they sometimes appear by frequent flier information or during the checkout process before the payment step.

Which of these methods have you used to reduce airfares? What other additional tips do you have? Whether flying cross-country or to a nearby state, it always feels like a great accomplishment to buy an airline ticket for less.