Hopefully you’ve set aside time this summer for a nice vacation in between summer school and the kids’ band camp. Many of us have already started perusing various travel sites, on the lookout for the perfect get-away. How do you know you’re getting the best deal on the vacation of your dreams? This week we’ll explore ways to stretch your travel dollars and avoid some of the common pitfalls to booking travel online.
A few years ago, my sister and I were looking up flights on Hawaiian Airlines together, planning a family vacation. We found a flight we were interested in, but weren’t ready to book the tickets yet. The next day when we logged in, we saw that the price had jumped by $40 per ticket. Whoa!
At first we thought the cheaper tickets for that flight were simply selling out, until we logged in from a different computer and discovered that the lower price was back. Hmmm. Turns out, some travel sites (even Travelocity) will store a cookie on your machine to track your browsing history. Then, they raise the prices on the particular trip you’ve been keeping your eye on. You think tickets are selling out fast and you rush to buy them quickly before the price goes up even further. Meanwhile, the airline’s just made a few extra bucks.
Has the price of your trip increased while you shopped around? After completing your research and just before you book, clear your browser history and delete your cookies. If that doesn’t work, try booking your travel from another computer – one that you haven’t used to peruse travel deals.
Take advantage of the “flexible dates” option when you’re searching for flights. Often, flying a day before or a day after your goal dates can save you a bundle since certain days of the week are less popular travel days. According to a study done by Fare Compare (www.farecompare.com), the cheapest days to fly domestically are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday (with Friday and Sunday being the most expensive). Internationally, Monday through Thursday is cheaper than Friday through Sunday. The cheapest time to fly is the first flight out in the morning. Yes, this means waking up at 4 AM or catching the red-eye, but it may be worth it if you save a couple hundred dollars on your flight.
Don’t overlook the “search surrounding airports” option. I’ve found some serious deals when I was willing to fly into a larger airport an hour or two away from my ultimate destination. Adjusting your travel itinerary to fly through an airline’s “hub” airport can also make your flight less expensive due to the larger number of flights going in and out of that airport. Wikipedia has a list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airline_hub) of all major airline hubs around the world. If your departure or final destination isn’t near a hub, you can still garner some savings by flying through one, or driving to or from the hub.
When you buy is also pivotal. You may think buying your airline tickets a year in advance is a good idea, but you may actually pay more than booking closer to your departure date. Additionally, tickets bought within 14 days of travel are typically the most expensive because the travel industry gets to gouge business travelers flying last minute. Airlines don’t begin actively “managing” their prices until three or four months prior to a departure for domestic flights and five to six months for international. Buy tickets sooner than that and you’ll likely pay too much.
Most travel experts agree that booking airline tickets early in the week will yield the best fares. Specifically, Tuesday at 3 PM Eastern time is your best bet. Why? Major airlines announce their fare sales late Monday, other airlines scramble to join them so they stay competitive and the price matching and fare wars are generally complete by Tuesday afternoon. These fares tend to be removed by Thursday night in preparation for the price-gouging that generally occurs over the weekend (a really bad time to buy).