15 Travel: Airfares

Once upon a time, flying was fun. Not so much lately, especially with security hassles, crowded flights, and fee-crazed airlines. Whenever airports beckon, don’t wing it—save with these strategies.

15.1  Don’t Buy Airline Tickets

   15.1.1  Redeem Miles
From airline loyalty programs or reward cards.

   15.1.2  Take Stay-Cations
For your next break, remain home. Visit your library and check out local travel guides. Make lists of places and activities.

   15.1.3  Take Road Trips
The interstate provides a speedy conduit. You paid the taxes, so reap the benefits. Visit CostToDrive.com, where you can compare the cost of flying to the cost of driving your particular make and model.

   15.1.4  Travel by Bus or Train
There’s ample legroom. Wi-Fi is FREE. You don’t have to turn off electronic devices. The vibe soars high above the mood at the airport. And the tickets cost much less. Bus fares from New York City to Washington, D.C. currently average $19 (visit BoltBus.com).

15.2  Stay Flexible

   15.2.1  Travel at the Right Time of Year
Fly in the opposite direction of the migrating flock and save.

   15.2.2  Travel at the Right Time of Week
Some airlines impose surcharges for flying on popular travel days. You save if you’re flexible enough to travel at other times. Rule of thumb: the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Exceptions exist, so when you shop for tickets, study fares closely.

   15.2.3  Travel Late at Night
Book “redeye” flights that leave late at night and arrive early next morning. If you possess the rare ability to sleep on planes, you can reward yourself with huge savings.

   15.2.4  Sign Up for Fare Alerts
Apply for these at travel sites and receive notice of the latest deals via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

   15.2.5  Increase Layovers
Direct flights usually cost more. If you have time to spare, schedule one or more connections.

   15.2.6  Land at Nearby Airports
Check for lower fares at less popular airfields.

   15.2.7  Travel to the Deals
Let the market tell you where to vacation and journey to where the bargains bloom.

   15.2.8  Seek Overbooked Flights
Gate personnel dangle lucrative payoffs to volunteers who agree to give up their seats and fly later. Some flexible travelers deliberately book themselves onto crowded flights and hope to get bumped. If you’re interested in this, search the web for “how to find overbooked flights.”

15.3  Shop Around

   15.3.1  Shop Early
The longer you shop, the more likely you find low fares. Start early and keep notes.

   15.3.2  Shop Midweek
Recent reports claim that the price of airfares dip to their lowest point on Tuesday afternoons. But by the time you read this, Wednesday mornings might be better. So ask the internet oracle this question: “when is the best time to shop for airline tickets?” The most recent answer shall guide thee.

   15.3.3  Visit Aggregator Sites
You can make separate visits to Hotwire, Travelocity, and Expedia; or you can view them all at once at “travel aggregators” such as Kayak.com, Mobissimo.com, or Momondo.com.

   15.3.4  Shop for One Seat at a Time
Here’s a great tip from FareCompare.com: always look for one seat only, even if you need two or more tickets. The reason? Sites are programmed to report only those prices that accommodate all requested seats. So if you shop for three tickets, and lower prices happen to exist for only one or two, you’re never informed. By shopping for one seat at a time, you get to see the lowest fares. When you’re ready to buy, open multiple purchase screens to assure that everyone gets on the same flight.

   15.3.5  Sign Up for Price Alerts
If you think that prices will drop before you’re ready to buy, register with alert services such as FareCompare.com, Yapta.com, or  AirFareWatchDog.com. These sites will email you about any price changes.

15.4  Cross-Check before Booking

Consider visits to these other sources before you finally book.

   15.4.1  Cross-Check With Carrier Websites
Travel sites are intermediaries, so you might find a better deal if you buy direct from the airline itself.

   15.4.2  Cross-Check With Discount Carriers
The cheapest airlines don’t always pay to post on travel websites, so before you book, visit Southwest.com, Spirit.com, and JetBlue.com.

   15.4.3  Cross-Check With Travel Agents
Any agents who survive at this late date do so because they deliver value. Before booking, check to see if one can find you a lower price. If you fly often, build a mutually profitable relationship.

15.5  Consider Alternative Buying Approaches

   15.5.1  Bundle Up
Sometimes you can save if you book airfare, hotels, and rental cars all at once. Run the numbers.

   15.5.2  Package Your Vacation
Vacation packages are common for resorts or group tours. This collapses most of your vacation spending into a single purchase. Visit TravelZoo.com or SmarterTravel.com. Package buyers are popular targets for scams. Vet unfamiliar vendors before you book.

   15.5.3  Try Group Buynamics
If you need ten or more tickets, contact airline group desks. Alternatively, save yourself the legwork and call a travel agent.

15.6  Avoid Price Gouges

   15.6.1  Escape Baggage Fees by Packing Light
Ultra-light hiking has inspired a similar movement in leisure travel. Pack everything into a single carryon. For a complete rundown, visit 1Bag1World.com. Some space savers:

  • Lightweight Clothes. Avoid heavy sweaters, blue jeans, and sweatshirts. If your trip requires bulky clothing, wear it onboard. You can always cram your parka into the overhead bin or underneath the seat in front of you. Specialized travel clothing weighs less and dries quickly, features which make it great for travel. Visit REI.com or CoolmaxFabric.com.
  • Convertible Pants and Shirts. Find several examples at REI.com.
  • One Pair of Shoes Only (and You’re Wearing Them). Lightweight low hikers are comfortable and versatile.
  • Washing Plans. You can pack lighter if you launder mid-trip. Some options: friends with washers, lodging with laundry rooms, and hotels with sinks (after washing, roll up wet clothing in bath towels and squeeze).
  • Compressible Bags. These reduce mass, but cause wrinkles.
  • Resealable Bags. Leather shave kits are bulky.
  • Small Souvenirs Only. If you must buy oversized trinkets, pay to ship them home.

   15.6.2  Fly Airlines That Don’t Charge Baggage Fees
Southwest Airlines, for one. JetBlue checks one bag at no charge. Some airlines waive fees if you book with certain credit cards.

   15.6.3  Ship Ahead
FedEx or UPS might ship to your destination for less than airlines do. Visit ShipGooder.com or ShippingSideKick.com.

   15.6.4  Carry Food and Water
Pack enough kibble for your entire flight and any foreseeable delays. Fill empty bottles at water fountains once you clear security.

15.7  Follow Up

   15.7.1  Consider Cancellation Insurance
For big trips, cancellations are costly. Consider insurance. Beware: the policies are riddled with exceptions and customer dissatisfaction is rampant. Understand the terms before buying. To shop policies from multiple companies, visit InsureMyTrip.com.

□   15.7.2  Print Your Own Boarding Passes
This saves time and, in some cases, saves the expense of missed flights and rebooking fees.

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