The travel writers of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association are always booking flights from here to there and everywhere in between, and many have been doing it for years. So we decided to tap into that collective wisdom to get some tips on how to find the best airfares.
Use Powerful Software
I always begin my airfare searches with the ITA Matrix software. The most powerful aspect of this tool is the variety of options for searching – from searching a whole month of fares for the cheapest options, searching multiple airports at the same time, open-jaw tickets, complicated itineraries and specific arrival and departure time. It shows the lowest prices currently offered by most of the world’s airlines, though notably, many budget carriers (RyanAir and Southwest Airlines, for example) are not part of the ITA Matrix. You can’t book directly through the site — instead you search for your desired price and itinerary with ITA and then book directly with the airline. If you don’t know the site, take some time to explore it during your next flight search, and play around with its many search options. I always feel like I make much better informed flight purchases when I start with ITA Matrix.
Elizabeth Heath, elizabethfheath.com
As a longtime traveler and a travel agent, my best secret for getting the lowest airfare is to be flexible with your time of day and your days of travel. Often, traveling very early in the morning or late at night can yield much lower fares. Also, the lowest fare may be available on a Tuesday or Wednesday, rather than a Monday, Friday, or Sunday. Being flexible may save you a lot of money.
Julie Cohn, acorkforkandpassport.com
Plan as far in advance as possible. Whether your site of choice is Expedia, Travelocity or an airline itself, the further you are looking ahead, more likely the better the deals are. Also, try to book your air travel as part of a package. Often, you will find that it is cheaper to get a flight and a room at a nice resort than it is to get just the flight for the peak destination. Of course, you will need to check whether there are any stipulations as part of the hotel or resort booking — like activity fees — but I find that bundle deals are generally economically sound, especially when booked far in advance.
Darren Paltrowitz, paltrowitz.com
Search One-Way Fares
I generally search at least 5-6 months out on Google and then create an alert for the flight(s). Also, search both one way and roundtrip as sometimes you can get a better deal taking separate airlines for each leg, so you end up booking two one-way fares.
Rossana Wyatt, lifeisfullofadventures.com
Clear Your Browser
Clear your browser cookies always when hunting for flights any time of year. There’s been a lot written about this topic as to whether browser cookies store data and increase rates the more you search for a flight. While many in the airline industry argue it doesn’t impact flight prices, consumers have often noted otherwise. It’s worth clearing the cookies before you browse often to be sure you are getting a fair price. Also, consider pushing into shoulder season if you have flexible holidays where you work. Booking a week, or a few days off the first two weeks of September when weather is often still just as gorgeous as it is in August, can save you a lot of money on accommodations and flights too.
Paula Schuck, thriftymommastips.com
Beware Budget Airlines
Those airline ticket prices from budget airlines might look good, but make sure you check out all of the fees associated with your flight. Read the fine print. Many budget carriers charge for checking baggage, choosing seats in advance, boarding in advance, and more. Some even charge for carry-on baggage while others charge if you do not print your own ticket and if your luggage is oversize or over the weight allowance.
Chris Cutler, coldpastaandredwine.com
Be Creative With International Flights
For international flights, buy your tickets 60-90 days before you leave to get the ultra low fare. You can also book multiple segments over time. Fly to your first destination and layover if you can get a cheaper flight from midway to your final destination.
Tom Talleur, RoverTreks.com