Booking flights online can be a stressful experience. One day you check the price and it’s affordable and then two days later it doubles. Sometimes the fares become cheaper again and sometimes they just keep getting more and more expensive over time. It’s hard to tell when the best time is to book, but there are some simple steps you can take to maximize your value for money when booking airfare online.
Here are 7 secrets that can save you big money on flight costs:
1. Buy At The Right Time
This is a huge money-saving tip and a controversial one as well. Many people argue about when the best time to book a flight is. Some say 6 months in advance, while others claim that last-minute seat sales are the cheapest. According to a study conducted by CheapAir.com in 2013, the optimal time to book flights is approximately 49 days (about 7 weeks) before departure.
The study also claimed that most airlines will charge hefty premiums if you book too late (within 14 days of departure) or if you book too early (more than 5 months in advance). We have personally discovered that we’ve found the best deals when shopping in the final 2 months before our proposed departure date. There is no point in even looking at flights before that time because you’ll just get stressed out about the fluctuating fares. Start looking around 49 days before you leave and book your flight after just a few days of shopping.
2. Use The Right Booking Engine
There are times when you can find the best deals directly from the airline’s website, but we find that it is much more likely that you will find a good deal on sites like Cheapoair.com and FareCompare.com. We did a test booking on a direct flight from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta using West Jet’s booking service and we couldn’t find a better price than $1,050 in December of 2014. The same West Jet flight was found on Cheapoair.com for just $810! That’s a savings of $240 made simply by using a different website for booking. Try multiple booking engines and airline websites to find the best deal.
Note: Sometimes sites like CheapoAir.com don’t offer any cancellation allowance, while if you book from the airline’s website directly, you may be able to change your flight date or even get a full refund for a cancelled flight. It’s worth searching for the flight through a booking engine and then checking the airline’s website for prices as well. If it’s the same price on the airline’s website as the booking site, your often better to book with the airline directly so that you can cancel or change your dates if needed.
3. Shop For The Fare, Not The Destination
We all enjoy a little bit of spontaneity in our lives and some booking engines do a great job of allowing you to be open with your travel plans, while finding the best possible deals on flights. Kayak’s explore tool (kayak.com/explore) is useful for searching multiple airline fares at a time. You’ll instantly see a map with all the destinations listed under a set budget. So if you want to fly for under $500, Kayak will simply search all flights for that price and find you a great deal based on your budget, not your destination.
4. Book On A Wednesday
This has long been considered the best day to book flights. According to FareCompare.com, Wednesdays are by far the cheapest days for flights, especially if you’re booking domestic. On their website they state:
“The day with the most seats is likely to have better supply, and thus … more empty seats that require discounting to fill the plane—meaning they’ll have to release more seats at their cheapest price point.”
We like to use booking engines that show a calendar with a full week of fares so that we can visually see the cheapest day of the week. Wednesday is almost always the cheapest day to fly in these listings.
5. The Flight + Rental Car Trick
For some reason when booking a flight with a rental car, you can sometimes access incredible savings, especially if you fly with British Airways or Expedia.com. This trick can save a ton of money and it’s one that very few people know about.
Go ahead and give it a try. Head to BritishAirways.com and instead of just booking a flight, click the tab that says “flight + car”. In our sample booking the cheapest flight to go from Toronto to London in July of 2015 was $1,524. We searched for that same flight in July from the British Airways tab “flight+car” and found it for just $1,444. What amazing savings! You get a rental car for the duration of your stay, plus you save $20 off the airfare for a total savings of $315… just for clicking that secret tab. And you don’t need to rent a car for the entire week to access these discounts. Just book the car for a day and see your cash savings add up!
A similar method can also be used on Expedia.com where you can save huge money (or even get completely free accommodation) just by clicking the “flight+hotel” tab. Give it a try! You’ll wonder why you didn’t know about this before.
6. Clear Your Browser Cache
Did you know that some airlines and booking engines actually save cookies into your browser so they know if you’ve been looking up the same flight over and over again. These cookies will monitor your searches and can ensure that you miss out on fare discounts and deals.
To clear your browser cache, click settings, then history and “delete cache”. Then start searching all over again and see if you have better deals on your screen. If you use the Google Chrome browser, you can simply hit “ctr+shift+N” (“cmd+shift+N” for Mac) to open an “incognito” window that will run without cookies.
7. Book With Your Best Rewards Credit Card
Whether you use your Capital One Delta Sky Miles card or your favourite frequent flyer program, it’s always best to use your credit card when booking a flight or look into using your points instead of hard-earned cash. If you’ve been putting all of your purchases throughout the year onto your best Canadian Travel Rewards Card, then you may just have enough points for a flight or a full vacation at the end of the year. Couple this with the amazing savings you can make from the other 6 tips in this article and you’ll be keeping more money in your wallet for future travels.
Book Smart, Book Cheap, Have Fun.
There’s no worse feeling than booking a flight online and then seeing the price go down a few hundred dollars the next day. You may never completely avoid the inevitability that another passenger on the plane paid less than you, but by using the 7 tips above, you can definitely maximize your chances of finding the best deals on flights. Next time you book a flight, book it cheap, with the confidence that you are an educated shopper and remember that saving money and planning for a trip should always be fun! Enjoy.