The Only Airfare Tip You’ll Ever Need – Secrets from a Travel Agent

I’ve been seeing quite a bit of talk about finding the best airfare deals lately. Whether it’s a blog about travel hacks or questions on a Facebook group, there’s a lot of interest in finding the best booking website, the best time to book, the tricks to get you to your destination for less. While most of the information is good, really all you need to do is follow one common sense guideline. When you hear it you’ll see how all these other tips fall into place, and be able to easily navigate finding your best available price.

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Okay, are you ready for the only tip you’re ever going to need? Fly when no one else wants to.  Yes, that’s the whole key. Every travel agent knows this because we frequently watch the discounts sell out in a heartbeat. Seriously, I’ve seen the price change during the few minutes it takes to fill in client information. Not a computer glitch, just that someone else out here in cyberspace grabbed that last seat at that price. When you hear ‘prices based on availability’ you should take that to heart. They don’t mean availability of seats on the plane, just seats at that particular discount. Airfare is based on supply and demand more than any other product I can think of. If you consider all those tips you’ve read like travel on Tuesday or late at night, go in May not June, and try a nearby airport, it all comes down to flying at a time/place most travelers don’t want to.

 

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This is what a travel agent’s booking engine looks like. Each airline starts selling seats from the bottom right (in this case “W”). Once all seats are sold to class “Y” you will pay full fare.

Airlines use several discount categories on every flight. There are a handful of seats at any given price, and when those sell, the rate bumps up to the next level. There are some discounts that only apply to 21 day advance purchase, and 14 day, and 7 day all on the same flight. Usually once you hit 3 days prior to departure, you’re going to pay full fare which could be quite a sticker shock. Every now and then you might catch a last minute sale, but airlines have gotten very good at streamlining seats available and are much more efficient with their inventory. Usually you should book about 60 days in advance to beat the crowd. If your destination is popular with several airlines flying to it, especially if there are low cost airlines competing with bigger carriers, you might be able to wait a little longer to see if any sales pop up. I advise setting up an airfare alert with a website like www.airfarewatchdog.com

 

So what should you avoid if you want the best deal?

  • School vacations – Summer is the worst, and Spring Break can last a whole month. Remember it’s not only your local school schedule, but nationwide. If you’re traveling internationally or even domestically to a popular place, you’re also competing for space with international travelers.
  • Holidays – The most traveled day is Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I won’t even drive near the airport in my hometown on that day.  The most expensive time to go on vacation is the week between December 24- January 1. You will probably find a better deal if you are willing to fly exactly on Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
  • Friday and Sunday late afternoon and evening – People often begin their vacations on a Friday evening and come back on a Sunday evening.
  • Monday morning, Thursday late evening – Business travelers.

 

As with anything in the crazy world of airline policies, there are exceptions. Sometimes flights just don’t sell as expected, or someone enters a fare wrong ( that’s when you find those $100 sales to far off places). If you find these crazy deals I hope you are as excited as I am to see them. Generally though, if you just try to avoid the most traveled time, or book early if you must travel then, you should get the best deals possible.

 

If you have questions about other travel tips, or need a little guidance with an upcoming vacation, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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