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The Geek's Guide To Getting The Max Out Your Airfare

Dianna Labrien, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist, @DiLabrien

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Vacation time always sounds exciting, except for when it comes to booking your airfare and comparing all those options available in terms of fluctuating prices.

There is some good news however, the prices are expected to drop significantly this fall according to a recent comprehensive research done by Hopper.

Their chief data scientist, Patrick Surry, has identified the following positive trends:
  • Domestic US fares will fall by 8.2% and will reach the autumn low of $213 in October for a round-trip flight.
  • Jet fuel prices fell about 7% in July and remain almost 40% above the low point at the end of 2015. This means airlines still have room to push more discounts based on the fuel savings.
While there are multiple pricing factors involved in determining the final figure to display to you as a customer and predicting or hacking all of them is incredibly hard, there are some proven tips, which work towards a lower price almost every time.

Here are the most actionable ones worth using.

When Is The Best Time To Buy Airfare?

This question has been researched over and over again. The latest data suggests the following time frames:
  • Six-week ahead if traveling in high season (e.g. Thanksgiving/Christmas)
  • Shop for international fare 6 to 1.5 months prior to departure.
  • Flying in February is always relatively cheaper as it's somewhat a "dead" season when the least people travel.
  • Tuesday 3 pm is named as the "golden hour" for making airfare purchase. Airline departments typically launch fare sales on Monday afternoons. These sales fares than go to popular airfare aggregators like Kayak and Expedia and published on the airline's website. Competing airlines spot the price drop and adjust their prices the next morning. So, by Tuesday 3 pm EST you have the most chances to see the largest amount of promos.
  • The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays whereas Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive ones.
  • Early morning and red eye flights usually cost less.
  • Connecting flights will always cost you less compared to direct routes.
Always Take Advantage Of Various Promos

Airline sales and promo deals pop-up more often than you think. Sure, subscribing to all of the newsletters will clutter your inbox, so it's best to confine your list to a selected number of carriers you use the most frequently or have loyalty cards with.

Additionally, the following sites regularly publish the hottest intentional deals and error fares, so keep an eye on them:
A lot of air ticket aggregators have this nifty feature to search for the cheapest month to fly from point A to point B (like Skyscanner) or the Explore feature (like Kayak), which will suggest the best routes based on your budget and timing.

Scoring a promo deal is harder during popular vacation seasons, yet it's not impossible. Just be ready to grab that cheap ticket the moment you've seen it if that's an error fare.

Get To Know What Kind of Compensation You Are Entitled To

The common problem with the cheapest airfare is that it's non-refundable, non-exchangeable and non-modifiable. Also, if you bought an error fare, your chances of ending up on an overbooked flight rise significantly.

So, it's worth knowing what you are entitled to when things go wrong during your trip. A lot of airlines try to sneak with giving you some food vouchers and putting you on another flight whereas they should have given you cash on top of that.

You are entitled to a flight delay compensation when:
  • Your flight was delayed for 3+ hours. The longer the delay is – the larger compensation you can claim.
  • You have missed your connecting flight because of the carrier.
  • You are on an overbooked flight, hence you were requested to take a later flight.
However, before going commando-style over the airline employer, make sure that your case doesn't fall under the so-called "extraordinary circumstances" classification. That includes:
  • Industrial actions such as strikes.
  • Political circumstances including civil unrest and possible terrorist attacks.
  • Unsuitable weather such as heavy rain/hail/storm etc.
  • Illness of a member of crew or passenger
  • Hidden manufacturing defects
Also if you've arrived late to the airport, didn't show up on time during a connecting flight or caused the delay/missed the flight because of some personal reasons, you are not entitled to receiving compensation unless that is clearly stated in your ticket conditions.

Bottom line: Get to know the rules for making compensation claims and use them when appropriately.

Figure Out The Best Flight Logistics

Not all airports were created equal, not just in terms of size, comfort, and location. There's a little thing called airport taxes, which each hub enlists to carriers. For instance, in the UK airport taxes can go as high as $130, whereas in Dublin that's just $25.

Why do you need to know about the airport taxes? For one – they influence the ticket price. For two – if you've collected enough award miles for a free ride, you are still expected to pay those.

On the other hand, this shouldn't mean you should always fly to smaller hubs with lower taxes. Big airports feature more routes, hence the price competition here is higher and some airline will always try to drop it to the lowest possible to "outsmart" the competitors.

Buying a round-trip ticket in most cases will cost you less, compared to buying two one-way tickets. There are exceptions, however, especially during busy travel seasons when top hubs put up the highest prices.

In this case look into a smaller airport nearby or consider how much will it cost you to fly to a neighboring city. If you are heading to Europe, for instance, and flights to Paris are terribly expensive, consider flying into Brussels or London instead. You can take a high-speed train from there or book a low-cost flight to your final destination and save some dollars.

Also, the majority of airfare aggregator doesn't pull deals from low-cost airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, Volotea or WizzAir, meaning you'll have to manually check their website and see whether you can effortlessly connect to them. Leave yourself enough time here as none of the airlines will be responsible if you miss a connection as the bookings were made separately. Also, you will have to get your baggage, go to the check-in counter and through the security yet again upon your arrival.

Always Double Check The Price In Anonymous Browsers

Air carriers are probably the most notorious abusers of dynamic pricing model. The more often you check the same flights – the higher the price will go.

Additionally, flight booking websites collect all sorts of your personal data including your past purchases and the price you felt comfortable with paying and adjust the new rates accordingly.

Before clicking the "pay" button, don't be lazy and re-check the fair in an anonymous browser like Tor to make sure the numbers aren't inflated.

Flying on cheap is more kind of an art rather than science. While every frequent traveler wishes there was a magic formula to guarantee you the best fare each single time, sadly there isn't one. So, do your homework well and research all the possible flight combinations you can imagine to get you from point A to point B!

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