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When you’re planning your next vacation, be it across the country or across the world, you’ve got plenty to plan for. Where you’ll be going, first and foremost, and when. Who you’ll be going with is important too, and what you should bring. Then comes the dreaded question, the thing that deters many travelers from exploring the world: booking the plane tickets.
Some people don’t fly because they’re afraid of being 30,000 feet in the air. Some don’t fly because they’re afraid of what being 30,000 feet in the air will do to their bank account. There are measures one can take during the planning phase of traveling that will save you both money and headaches down the line.
1. Clear your cookies
This should be the first thing you do when you’re searching for flights. Though some question the validity of this method, clearing your cookies certainly won’t hurt in your search for better prices when booking your tickets.
For the uninitiated, cookies are browsers way of storing bits of information regarding what websites you visit, and what you did while you were there. They are the reason you’re able to fill your shopping cart on Amazon, or stay logged into your Facebook account each time you close your browser. They can be cleared by sifting through the info on the “settings” portion of whatever internet browser you’re using.
Though the validity of clearing your cookies is debated, it certainly won’t do you any harm when browsing for flights.
2. Use HipMunk to search flights
Now that your cookies are clear (or you’ve opened a private tab), navigate to Hipmunk. Hipmunk is a flight searching site that offers a little more than most others. In addition to hotel search, Hipmunk also lets users view Amtrak scheduling and Airbnb accommodations through the site. Hipmunk combines searches through available flights and allows you to sort not only by price, departure time, flight time and take off/landing, but also by a compound metric they call “agony.”
Sorting by “agony” combines the price, duration and stops factors and determines which flights will be the most convenient for fliers. So while a ticket booked through Sun Country might be the cheapest at $135, the 8 hour, 5 minute flight with a one hour layover rates as more agonizing than United’s 6 hour flight that costs $148.
Keep in mind when searching for ticket prices, some airlines (such as Southwest) don’t publish prices on external sites, so be sure to double check prices you find on Hipmunk against the fares over on Southwest’s website.
3. Book 7 or 8 weeks in advance
Booking way in advance of your trip not only gives you plenty of time to prepare, experts say that 7 or 8 weeks is the optimal amount of time to ensure a low fare. Too far in advance and you’ll be buying them at their initial rate, a number which often will come down over time. Buy too late and you find yourself facing jacked up prices as seat numbers run low and takeoff time approaches. Roughly 54 days, or seven and a half weeks in advance is the best time to buy your tickets according to numbers crunched by CheapAir.
When FareCompare broke it down even further, looking at the prices on a day-to-day basis. Their findings indicated that the best days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. The best day to book a flight is Tuesday afternoon, particularly around 3 p.m. This is because Tuesday afternoons are heavy traffic times for airlines, forcing them to drop their rates to match those of competitors.
4. Hidden City Ticketing
This one is going to depend entirely on what airline you’re using. Hidden city ticketing is an incredibly simple task that could save you large sums of money when flying. Here’s how it works: say you’re flying from New York to Chicago and the cheapest flight you can find is $650. Hidden city ticketing comes into play when you factor in layovers. You may, for example, be able to a find a cheaper flight out of New York that has a stop in Chicago before venturing on to a final destination elsewhere in the United States. Buying a ticket and disembarking at a layover to save money is the essence of hidden city ticketing.
The tactic of hidden city ticketing is a hotly debated topic. Although it isn’t illegal, many airlines bar it in their terms of service, so be sure to read them before you try this method out. Southwest, for example, is one airline that won’t penalize you for utilizing this tactic, as their terms of service doesn’t specifically prohibit it. Of course, there are some fairly important caveats to using it. The inability to book round-trip, or use luggage checks and the potential to hear your named called over the loudspeaker at La Guardia when they realize you haven’t returned after the layover are annoyances, but if you’re able to get past them and find a flight that won’t penalize you, hidden city ticketing can save you more money than any other tactic outlined here.
Using these four tricks next time you’re looking to hop on board a plane for a nice vacation could save you not only money, but a lot of agony.