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How to save money on airfare

Over 54 million Canadian and 638 million US passengers boarded flights in the past year. Is it me, or is that a lot of flying?

This week, while on a plane to Montreal for work and with the U.S. Thanksgiving on its way, I thought what better time than now to talk about saving money on airfare. Now of course, my flight was fully paid for by my employer, but what if you’re planning your own little vacation? How do you get the cheapest airline tickets? Flying is not cheap. But knowing the right time and methods to book, can save you hundreds on airfare.

But you need to be flexible. If you’re one of those, dead set on a certain airline, because of the extra legroom and the cushy seats, consider this:  would you rather spend that extra $500 on your flight, or on your vacation? To me, it’s an easy decision, especially if it’s a short flight.

So here are some things to consider when booking a flight:

Be your own travel agent

  • Search online for cheap airfare. There are a lot of reputable online travel sites out there: itravel2000.com, TravelocityOrbitz, etc. Remember, no one will look out for your best interest, better than you. Most travel sites now provide the same prices and if not, almost all have a price matching policy in place. In the end, if you’re really that concerned about the internet in this day and age, you can always call the online travel site and book it with them on the phone. And you don’t have to constantly be searching every day, either. Online airfares are usually updated weekly, across all websites, usually on the same day (Tuesday night). Although, that day is subject to change, so find out what day that is and search that day to get the best prices.
  • Sign up for free Price Alerts. Of course, you should monitor your prices, but some sites make it even easier to find airline deals. itravel2000.com, for example, has a Price Alerts feature that will email you when the price drops or reaches your target price. This is different from Price Assurance / Price Drop Protection policies in that, the website will alert you of a price change, even before you book, and delivered right to your inbox.
  • Sign up to receive special offers. Airlines themselves, usually have special promo codes, available only to their email subscribers. Sign up on their site for their weekly emails when you’re in the market for a flight. Unsubscribe when you’re not, so you’re not tempted by all the hot vacation destination offers.

Timing is everything

  • Don’t wait too late and don’t book too early. No matter if you have it all planned, booking a year in advance is usually the most costly. Booking a week before is also not a good idea. As planes fill up, the prices go up. I’ve found the best time to book is usually one to two months before your flight.
  • If you can, be flexible with the day. Almost all sites now give you the ability to search for flights departing 3 days prior or following your preferred departure date. And if you’re planning some week-long vacation, try searching the weeks earlier and later to see which gives you the best bang for your buck. I’ve saved hundreds before, by switching weeks. If you’re planning a tropical vacation, tripcentral.ca has a great tool for this. Just visit their site and click on Vacation Pricing Grid. This will give you a good pricing comparison, per month or per week to find you the cheapest flights.
  • Be flexible on time. The most expensive times to book a flight are generally during regular business hours – when business flights are frequent and/or parents with children (me, included) don’t want to haul their little ones out of bed. But if you can, early morning or late evening flights can save you quite a bit. Just set the site to search by price (often, not done by default) and the system should take care of the rest.
  • Connecting flights and nearby airports. If you can handle shuffling the kids around, you can sometimes save a lot of money on airfare, just by choosing non-direct flights. Or try and see what it would cost to depart from a nearby airport. A flight from Buffalo to New York saved me over $200 vs. flying out of Toronto – and that was even including the gas and parking. But it’s not always the cheapest route. All travel sites have an option to search for all airports in that city, and some even have options to search for airports nearby.

Of course, there are cheaper ways to travel – mainly, free. Look at using your loyalty card travel miles to book to flight. If you’re self-employed look for events in that city related to your business and make your vacation a tax write-off. If you’re not, you can always see if there are any events, conferences, training seminars that you can get your employer to cover.

In any case, a little planning goes a long way and you won’t have to feel so guilty when your bill arrives. But I must admit, I haven’t travelled on a plane with my daughter yet, so I imagine my perspective may change, somewhat.

Have you travelled with children? Have any airline booking tips you would like to share? Found this article useful? Share it, don’t forget to subscribe to my email list for all that’s new on Thrifty Dad and happy flying!

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