I’m a typical American in that I believe an enormously expensive thing like a commercial jet flight should be cheap. Consider some of the costs airlines incur: fuel, insurance, baggage equipment, aircraft repairs and maintenance, plane purchases, gate space at airports, landing fees, and the salaries and benefits of the pilots, flight attendants, check-in counter specialists, and the maintenance crew. Some passengers have to bear the ticket-price burden for the bulk of these expenses. Let’s just make sure that it’s not you.
MAKE YOUR CALENDAR FLEXIBLE
Pick a date but be willing to change it. Airfare sites like Expedia and Kayak let you give a range of arrival and departure dates so you can find the best deal.
BE WILLING TO DRIVE A LITTLE
If you’re traveling a long distance—cross-country or to another continent—don’t just search for airfares from your local airport. Drive two to three hours to an alternative airport, and you might be able to chop a few hundred dollars off the round-trip flight cost. Take my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I check out the fares at the regional airport here, as well as those in Greenville, South Carolina (about one hour), Charlotte, North Carolina (two hours), Winston-Salem, North Carolina (two hours), Johnson City, Tennessee (90 minutes), and Knoxville, Tennessee (two hours). If it’s an international flight, I’m willing to drive to Atlanta (3.5 hours).
SCOUR THE AIRLINE SITES THEMSELVES, NOT JUST AGGREGATORS
Travel sites like Kayak and Expedia include most but not all airlines in their fare searches. Most notably: Southwest, which is a biggie, considering how cheap its fares can be.
BUY TICKETS ON TUESDAYS
Airlines tend to release new fares on Tuesday morning, and by later in the afternoon their competition will have matched them. Wednesday is also a pretty good day to buy. Ticket prices usually get raised from Friday through Monday morning, so don’t buy on weekends.
FLY ON THE LEAST-BUSY DAYS, AND BE WILLING TO WAKE UP EARLY
Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are the best days for cheap flights, and you’ll find even bigger bargains if you fly out in the morning.
FORGET THE OLD INTERWEBS, AND USE SOCIAL NETWORKS
Twitter is the greatest tool ever invented for budget-minded travelers. An airline will often tweet a temporary flash-fare deal before announcing it anywhere else. You can also find out about sudden sales from the feeds of travel gurus like @JohnnyJet.
DON'T FORGET PROMO CODES
Before clicking “buy” on that plane reservation you just made, take a glance at a promo-code site like RetailMeNot to make sure you can’t get a better deal. You never know.