Excite Travel
Travel Home2TorialsFlightsCarsCruisesHotels
Learn2 Shop for Bargain Airfares
(6 steps)

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 ahead.
  • 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 overseas travel.
   Go to Step 1 of 6

 Click here to email this page to a friend  

Step 1: Call a courier company
Step 2: Consult consolidators
Step 3: Check out charters
Step 4: Put your modem to work
Step 5: Research rebaters and travel agents
Step 6: Call airlines directly

  • A working phone
  • Internet access (optional)
  • Phone numbers and/or Internet sites for the following (all should be available in the Travel section of your local newspaper):
    • a courier company
    • a ticket consolidator
    • a charter company
    • a rebater
    • a good travel agent
    • individual airlines


Avoid Catching a Cold on an Airplane
Become a Travel Agent
Remember Important Tasks Before Traveling
Prevent Seasickness
 More Learnlets...