Christmas presents: $200. Airline ticket to visit family in New York: $400. Change to spare: $0. Sound familiar?
Although many consider the holiday season as a time for giving, most would agree that it certainly is not a time for paying high fares for airline tickets.
Saving several hundred dollars would be a blessing for any starving college student and knowing how to find cheap airline tickets might mean getting that special someone a more special gift.
With so many airlines competing to attract travelers, finding a great deal is easy.
But as with all bargain hunting, great deals do not come without shopping around a bit.
The U.S. has more domestic airlines than any other country, so look around. Checking with several airlines will give you a better chance of finding a low fare.
Most airlines have advance purchase policies, ranging anywhere from seven days to 21 days prior to the departure date. But most policies range from seven to 14 days. Fares are lower when purchased in advance.
Online travel agencies, such as hotwire.com or expedia.com, generally charge more than the airlines themselves. They too need to make a profit somehow. Directly compare their cheapest flights with the actual airline and usually, the airline will charge less.
Fares are usually lower during weekdays, since most leisure travelers take trips on weekends.
There are several discount airlines known for low fares: Southwest, ATA, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, AirTran and Song Airlines. Some of these airlines do not serve food, but only because it allows them to keep their fares low. This is why they often have cheaper fares.
However, do not limit your choices to just these carriers. In the aftermath of 9-11, traditional carriers, such as struggling United Airlines and American Airlines, have dramatically reduced many of their fares to win back weary travelers.
Also, they may be cheaper sometimes because fares increase based on the number of seats an airline has sold on a particular flight. A seat on a nearly full Southwest flight may be more expensive than a United flight that has yet to fill half of its seats. Airlines are able to increase their fares because they only need to sell a certain amount of seats on each flight in order to break even with their costs. All additional sales are merely profit.
This is why some airlines charge high fares for flights they advertised for far less. Only a certain amount of seats on each flight are sold under the airline’s promotional fare.
If your travel dates are flexible, changing dates by one day can make an enormous difference in fares.
Try traveling to or from secondary airports, if possible. For instance, Los Angeles is near five airports: LAX, John Wayne (Orange County), Ontario, Long Beach, and Burbank. Fares for some airports may be lower than others.
Many airlines offer discounts for booking online. For example, JetBlue Airways gives a $5 discount on each one-way purchase booked on its Web site.
Sidestep.com is an innovative airfare search engine that hunts for the cheapest fares from each airline. Showcased on CNN, Sidestep’s services are free and easy to use. A simple download of its program allows travelers to compare the prices of different airlines on the same screen. Also, it does not overcharge travelers like online travel agencies. It displays the same fare that the airlines charge.
Remember, airline taxes have increased since 9-11. Taxes range anywhere from $20-$40 and are in addition to most published fares, unless noted otherwise.
1. Burbank/LAX/Ontario/John Wayne-Oakland: $29 each way (Southwest)
2. Burbank/LAX/Ontario/John Wayne-Phoenix: $29 each way (Southwest)
3. Long Beach-Ft. Lauderdale: $99 each way (JetBlue)
4. Long Beach-Washington D.C./Dulles: $99 each way (JetBlue)
5. LAX-Honolulu: $229 each way (ATA)
6. Ontario and Long Beach/JFK: $99 each way (JetBlue)
7. Burbank-La Vegas: $73.50 roundtrip w/taxes (Aloha)
Fares do not include a federal fee of up to $3 that will be imposed on each flight segment. A flight segment is defined as a takeoff and a landing.
Fares do not include airport assessed Passenger Facility Charges of up to $18 and a government-imposed Sept. 11 Security Fee of up to $5 one-way, $10 roundtrip.