Sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid paying more than you’d like for airfare, but there are a few things you can try to keep from paying more than you should. To help you sidestep the most common errors that even sophisticated travelers make, here are the most common flight booking mistakes to avoid before your next trip.
Don’t Forget About Alternate Airports
Many major cities have more than one good-sized airport, but by searching only on a specific one, you won’t see potentially better fares to other nearby gateways. A couple of classic U.S. examples are Newark vs. JFK vs. LaGuardia, or Long Beach vs. LAX; overseas a good example is Gatwick vs. Heathrow in London.
To get these airports into the mix, choose the “All Airports” option shown on many airline and flight booking sites that includes a city code instead of an airport code. So when traveling to or from New York, sites like Expedia allow you to use NYC instead of JFK or EWR, and will return fares from all area airports. In Los Angeles, the code for all airports is QLA (instead of the more limited LAX).
In the case of densely populated areas, you can sometimes fly into an entirely different city altogether. For example, San Diego is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles (depending on traffic, of course); that makes it a somewhat reasonable alternative to Los Angeles, especially if your trip takes you to areas south of L.A. like Newport Beach, San Clemente, and the like. Similarly, Chicago and Milwaukee are about 90 miles apart, and Tampa and Orlando are separated by about 85 miles.
If your booking site does not allow this (for example, CheapFlights.com seems to accept NYC, but not QLA), or you’re not sure what your other options are, another way to discover nearby airports is to do a search on Kayak and select the “Include nearby” option, which will show results for other airports within 70 miles of the one you entered. You can also consult this cool chart from Johnny Jet that lists nearby airports in the U.S. by miles from your departure or destination airport.
Don’t Forget to Try Searching on an Incognito Browser
It’s long been suspected that airlines and booking engines may show higher fares on routes that you have previously searched. If you are researching an upcoming trip from Chicago to Paris, for example, and have checked airfares on the route frequently in recent days or weeks, the site “knows” you really want these fares, and “guesses” that you might be willing to pay a bit more for them.
A recent study found that fares do differ on occasion, but you’re actually more likely to see lower fares if you’re logged into a given booking site rather than searching on a browser with no previous history of researching that route.
Because of this uncertainty, it’s worth trying your search both ways—on your normal browser (preferably while logged into your favorite booking site) and on an incognito browser where your searches aren’t tracked.
Don’t Book on Days When Prices Are Higher
Unless you are booking travel for work, it is obviously most convenient to shop for and purchase airfares over the weekend, when you have more free time. However, Airfarewatchdog reports that many airlines release sales early in the week, making Tuesday and Wednesday a good time to catch low fares. FareCompare narrows it down even further, reporting that the best time to book U.S. domestic flights is Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
This varies somewhat for international flights, as might be expected with airlines based in a variety of countries with different fare updating patterns, so you will want to be a bit more vigilant for international fares.
Don’t Fly on Friday or Sunday
Airlines tend to jack up airfares for Friday and Sunday flights for the simple reason that these are the most likely days leisure travelers and vacationers are going to travel. The number of travelers also gets pushed up on Fridays by business travelers racing home, so this can be a particularly pricey day. Mondays can also be pricey thanks to their popularity with business travelers.
The cheapest days to fly tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Thursdays and Saturdays costing a little more. That means that if your departure or return flight falls on a Monday, Friday, or Sunday, you’re likely paying more than you need to. It may take some creative use of your vacation time—such as a trip that runs Tuesday to Tuesday rather than Sunday to Sunday—but what you lose in flexibility you more than make up for in savings.