As a large family, we take a lot of road trips because finding plane tickets for seven of us is so expensive. But we live across the country from our grandparents so at least once a year, we just need to fly. After years of searching for the best deals on airline tickets, here are my best tips to help you find cheap airline tickets.
Watch Airfare Trends
Spend a few weeks checking airfares to the city you want to travel to. Get a feel for what is a normal price so that you will be able to recognize a good deal when you see it. If I have a destination in mind, I try to do a quick airfare check each day for a week or two to see what pricing trends I can recognize. If your dates are at all flexible, play with different days of the week. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are usually better days to find cheap airline tickets.
Book Airline Tickets Far in Advance
I have read countless articles about how the best time to buy airline tickets is 45-60 days before your travel date, etc. but generally speaking, the earlier you can buy your ticket the better. And I mean a whole year in advance when possible. I know there are those random last-minute deals, but when you need several tickets for a family, it is unlikely you will find a cheap last-minute flight. Especially if you want to travel around Thanksgiving or Christmas, the day the tickets go on sale one year in advance is often the best date to buy. I know it takes some planning and commitment but I have bought plane tickets 9-12 months in advance for years, and the early bookings are the best prices I have found.
Search Airports in Nearby Cities
The cost of airfare can vary between airports. If possible, consider alternative airports from your hometown or into your destination. You may spend a little more time in the car, but when purchasing tickets for a family, you could save hundreds of dollars if you are willing to drive an extra hour or two. For example, my family of seven saved $80 per ticket by flying into Baltimore instead of Washington D.C. We drove 60 minutes to get to and from the airport, but the $560 savings was worth it.
Compare Hidden Fees Before Booking
Cost-saving measures in the airline industry have made it so every airline has a different fee structure. Will you be paying for your bags? Drinks? Extra legroom? Carry-on luggage? It seems that just about everything has a price tag, but that varies from airline to airline. Some discount airlines are notoriously bad for trying to hook you in with a super cheap deal but then charging you for everything from your carry-on bag to the right to pick your seat. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when you decide what a good deal is.
Many families love Southwest because of their unique boarding process and their flexible change fees, which are the best in the airline industry. Free bags help as well. JetBlue has a great reputation as a fun, family-friendly airline. Others swear by the Spirit $9 Fare Club, which can be a great option for those who have figured out how to travel light. But I had such a terrible experience on a recent Frontier flight that I nearly vowed to avoid all discount airlines in the future. My best advice if you want to save a few dollars by flying discount airlines is to read the fine print carefully before you purchase your tickets and make sure that the extra fees your family will need to travel comfortably still leave room for a cost savings.
Set Up Alerts
If you have a few weeks to search for tickets, you can get a good feel for what ticket prices are if you set up a deal alert. You can request notification via email or text and set a price limit. When the airfare drops below your price threshold, you will be notified and you can grab a quick deal. Sometimes the price won’t drop, but at least you will know after watching for a few weeks what the going price is. There are many sites you can search. My personal favorite is Kayak.com. Many people love skyscanner.com
Do not rely completely on deal alert websites. Once you’ve set up a price alert, you should know it still may not be your cheapest price. Some airlines, such as JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, do not work with most airfare search engines, so I always search those airlines separately.
How else can we help?
Google Flights is a cool new tool that makes it incredibly easy to quickly find airfare rates all over the world. My friend Bethany at Flashpacker Family shares great tips on Why You Should Start Using Google Flights to Plan Your Travel.
I asked a few other travel bloggers to also share their secrets with you, and here are a few more hacks on how to make sure you get a good deal on your airfare.
Do you have a tip for how to save money on airfare that I haven't covered? Please share it in the comments below! Thanks.