Ever booked a flight on a Friday, only to see the fare cut in half by Tuesday? What a difference a few days can make! To take the mystery out of ever-changing fares so you can maximize your vacation budget, we’ve called in three travel experts who’ve boiled down cost-effective booking to a sweet science. Avoid overpaying using these tips.
How to save on airline tickets
Book a few weeks in advance. To snag the best deal, book flights six to eight weeks out for domestic travel and eight to 12 weeks out for international travel, says Reid Bramblett, founder of ReidsGuides.com, a repository of useful travel links, insider tips and advice.
Adds Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: “Some people who track airfares say the best time to book domestic air travel is about 80 days in advance, while the best time to book international air travel is about 120 days in advance.”
“Airlines have gotten much smarter about tweaking their flights to raise the percentage on their load factors, which is a fancy way of saying that planes are flying fuller than ever, meaning the lower fares are selling out faster,” he says. “But if you’re looking more than 12 weeks out, you’ll see airlines are still charging top dollar in the hope of filling the plane with full-fare passengers.”
An exception: For peak travel times, such as major holidays or events, it’s safe to add another month to your advance booking time, says Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel.
Lock in deals early in the week. Generally speaking, the lowest average fares are sold on Sundays, followed by Saturdays, Tuesdays, Mondays, Thursdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, says Di Vincenzo, who cites an analysis done by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp, which processes tickets booked through travel agencies. “Based on an analysis of hundreds of millions of tickets, [research] now identifies Sundays as the best day to buy airline tickets, as airlines advertise their lowest prices on the weekends, which is also a time when corporate flights aren't being booked,” he says. By Tuesday, other airlines may be matching those sales, according to Banas, and then fares rise until the next weekend.
A little research will give you some perspective. “Check over the weekend to get a baseline for a standard fare, and then check back on Tuesday to see if it has suddenly dropped,” Bramblett suggests.
Fly on off-days. The day you fly is important, too. In general, experts say, flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays are cheaper, while Sunday flights typically are the most expensive.
Wait—if you’re flexible. Should you ever wait to book at the last minute? Only if you can take it or leave it. “Airlines want to sell every seat on every flight, but they’re smart enough to know that they can charge a lot for last-minute buyers because they assume those buyers are desperate and will pay just about anything,” Di Vincenzo says.
Still, you can find deals on “distressed” inventory—airplane seats or hotel rooms that aren’t selling—if you can be flexible and wait, Banas says.
Bottom line: No matter when you book or fly, you’ll get your best price if you do thorough research beforehand. Spend a few days investigating fares on a variety of flights so you’ll have a good sense of the price ranges for the trip you want to take. That way, you’ll know when you should jump on a steal—or when you should run away from an overpriced ticket.
How to save on hotel rooms
Book when quotas need to be met. Try booking at the end of the quarter or year, Di Vincenzo says. “Hotel sales staffers usually have quarterly quotas, so call a hotel at the end of March, June, September or December when they’re more eager to book rooms, or ask when they will offer discounted rates,” he says. “Hotels know months in advance when they’re likely to be busy or have plenty of vacancies. That’s when they offer the best rates.”
Wait out the best deals. There’s no need to book too far in advance, unless there’s a special small lodge you’re coveting, or if there’s a major event occurring in the city during your trip, says Bramblett, who suggests booking hotels just two to three days in advance.
“Reserve in advance only what it makes sense to reserve, but don’t overbook,” Bramblett says. “The best timing when it comes to much of travel is ‘right now,’ and it’s hard to take an opportunity when your entire trip has been pre-programmed.”
Upgrade early in the week. Sunday and Monday are the best days of the week to ask for a free hotel upgrade, says Di Vincenzo. “Those usually are the slowest days, and there are more vacant rooms, so there are more opportunities to get a better room or a room with a better view or a bigger bathroom.”
Just remember to ask for the upgrade—hotels typically don’t offer them up, even if they’re available. “It also helps if you booked a mid-priced room,” Di Vincenzo says. “If you paid $49 for a room, don’t expect to get a free upgrade to a spacious suite.”
Use your NEA member benefits!
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Save on hotels and resorts: As an NEA member, you can save up to 60% when you use the NEA Travel Program to book your hotel stay. Choose from more than 250,000 high-end and discount hotels around the world. NEA Travel will price match if you find a hotel at a lower price on other travel booking sites.
Let someone else plan a trip for you: Let the experts organize transportation, lodging, most of the meals and tickets to the most popular attractions when you book a guided tour through NEA Travel.
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