Are you paying big bucks for bruised knees?
You're flying from Boston to New York--via Houston--and you've paid dearly for the privilege. After an over-priced cocktail, you strike up a conversation with the guy next to you and find out his ticket only cost one-half as much as yours. How is that possible?
Welcome to the mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world of airline ticket pricing. Airlines know the public is willing to pay a pretty penny for the convenience of flying. However, they want to fill the seats (the plane's going to have to fly anyway), so they regularly offer discounts. The result: rates vary widely depending on where, when and how you buy your ticket.
This means passengers and airlines are constantly engaged in a game of chicken. Let's say you're planning to visit your parents at Thanksgiving, but you find that the cheapest ticket is 30 percent more than you usually pay. Here's the dilemma: do you buy now in case rates rise further, or do you wait for a last-minute sale that may never materialize? Without a crystal ball--or a hidden microphone in United's board room--it's difficult to know what the future will hold.
Fortunately, the savvy consumer can make an end-run around the airlines' fickle pricing policies. From consolidators to courier flights, from email sales to online ticketing, we've laid out all your options. If you learn when and where to look for tickets, you might just find yourself flying high at half the cost.
Before you begin
If you've got to be in Dubuque by dawn, you're
going to pay dearly for the privilege. The farther
you can plan in advance--and the more flexible you
are--the cheaper it'll be for you to fly (though
there ARE exceptions, so read on).
To find a really good fare, you also have to be
willing to step outside the usual channels.
Airlines and travel agents sometimes offer real
bargains, but you can consult a number of other
sources before turning over your credit card
number. A little extra time could net you hundreds
of dollars in savings.
When first making plans to fly, keep in mind
these general guidelines:
- Book at least 14 days in advance:
Airlines like to know in advance how crowded
their planes are going to be, and they'll
generally give you a discount for planning
- Stay over on a Saturday night:
Airlines charge a premium for business travel,
and if you complete your round-trip during the
week, you'll pay business rates. If you stay
over a Saturday night, you'll probably qualify
for a lower excursion rate.
- Don't travel Friday evening or Monday
morning: These are the busiest travel times
(besides big holidays), and airlines can get
away with charging extra.
- Avoid holiday travel: Very often,
prices creep (or shoot) up around big holidays:
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day
and the Fourth of July--just when you want to
travel most! If possible, plan your getaways
outside these times. Besides getting lower
airfares, you'll avoid the big crowds.
- Travel between November 1 and December
15: This is the slowest season for travel
(except during Thanksgiving), and airlines
generally provide big discounts--especially for