The airline game is one you just have to play, like it or not. If you go to websites like Kayak, Expedia, Momondo, or Skyscanner on a regular basis you might see an airfare jump all over the place depending on a number of factors. But, there are some things you can do to get the best deal. A travel agent can certainly help you, but the days are gone where they can find always find you the best deal. I would advise consulting with one though, especially for more complex travel plans. They can sometimes find deals that you may not be able to due to their access to certain suppliers and airline consolidators, so it is worth it to check with your favorite travel agent.
But, here are a few things you can do to help find good fares.
Shop around – Check out various websites – Kayak, Skyscanner, Momondo, Adioso – but, also check directly with the airline site. Don’t forget the international airlines when flying out of the country. Consulting these, and in the native country/language, can save you money. You will have to use the Google translator to figure out what it says, but you can save a couple hundred dollars on that international flight.
Sign up to receive notices – I use Airfarewatchdog for this. If you know you will be going from say, Chicago to San Francisco, you can plug in those cities and you will get an alert when the price drops. I actually ended up flying roundtrip from Cincinnati to Rome for just under $700. I received an email telling me that the price had come down. When I checked, I was found the great fare on Orbitz.
Be flexible (if possible) on days/dates of travel – If you have a little wiggle room on the days of travel, this will help. For domestic flights, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are usually cheaper. If you are flying to Europe, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are your best bet.
Book at least 2-3 weeks in advance (or more) – How far to book in advance can be tricky. Typically, if you know you are going somewhere 6 months in advance, go ahead and start looking. Sign up for the alerts mentioned above. However, sometimes you can find a last minute deal. These are becoming harder to find with fewer flights and fewer seats available. My advice is to start looking as soon as you know you are going to a destination (or are thinking of going to a destination). Sign up for a fare alert such as Airfarewatchdog. When the flight gets to a point that seems reasonable, then grab it!
The trend – From what the experts are saying, domestic airfares may come down a little this year. International fares will most likely remain a bit high. But, there are always ways to find the best deal (this doesn’t mean cheap, but simply the least expensive for YOU and your parameters). And, if all else fails, get in touch with a travel agent and leave all the work to them. It’s what we do…and most of us really enjoy the game!