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Think About Timing
For less competitive routes, try to buy tickets at least 21 days in advance to get the best price. For high-traffic routes, consult bing.com’s Airfare Predictor, which will advise whether you should snap up that ticket or wait.
Consider One-Way Tickets
If your plans don’t permit a Saturday stay over, try buying two one-way tickets from a low-cost carrier like Southwest or JetBlue, which don’t require round-trip purchases to access the lowest prices.
Sometimes the lowest fares are on an airline’s own website; sometimes they’re available through search engines, such as Kayak or Expedia, which locate fares from a combination of carriers.
Check for Alternate Airports
In some areas, a discount airline may not have any routes to the major airport, so look for a smaller one in the area (for example, San Jose instead of San Francisco, or Providence, RI, instead of Boston).
Be a Subscriber
Sign up to receive emails from airlines that fly your preferred routes and get access to special deals. Farecompare.com scans airline data and sends you alerts for your favorite cities, while airfarewatchdog.com has a team of experts hunting for good deals.
Consider a Connecting Flight
As a rule of thumb, connecting flights are almost always cheaper than nonstops on longer-haul flights. In fact, the price difference between a connecting flight and a nonstop can be substantial. Of course, a connecting flight means longer travel time and the possibility of being delayed.
Select Your Travel Days Carefully
Look for flights that depart on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, when fares are generally at their lowest. Also worth noting: on many routes, travelers pay a premium for round-trips that don’t include a Saturday.
As the airline industry’s loss leaders, red-eyes are often cheaper than their daytime counterparts. Book a window seat to avoid disturbances, and don’t forget your eye mask and earplugs.
Watch for Price Drops
If you get stuck paying a lot for your tickets, keep checking fares. JetBlue and Alaska will give you a credit for any drop in price, while AirTran and Virgin America will repay you the difference if the fare for your flight decreases by $75 or more. Sign up at yapta.com, which keeps track of prices and airline policies.
Watch for Midweek Sales
Airline sales are invariably short-lived and typically last no more than three days. Airlines tend to roll them out late Monday or early Tuesday morning; by Thursday, they’re gone.