Tips for Finding Cheaper Airline Tickets

Don’t let sky-high airfare prices ground your travel plans. Get smart tips for saving money on your next plane tickets.

by NEA Member Benefits

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Key takeaways

  • Being flexible with your travel dates may lead to discounts, especially if you’re open to red-eyes or longer layovers.
  • Many airlines send discount codes in e-newsletters or promote sales through their social media channels.
  • Data suggests that the best window for booking flights is six to eight weeks out for domestic and Canadian travel.

Airfares have increased in recent years, making it more important than ever to be strategic when purchasing tickets. These savvy savings tips can help you find the cheapest flights.

1. Be flexible.

Not locked into specific travel dates? Do a “flexible dates” search to see which days offer the best fares.

Many travel sites offer this feature, including Kayak.com and Google Flights. Some airline sites, such as United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, also let you search a range of days before and after your potential target date. Fly.com even creates a destination-specific fare calendar and lists your home airport’s cheapest itineraries for the next 90 days. In general, flights are cheaper on the slower travel days of the week—Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays—but a flexible dates search might turn up significant discounts on other days, especially if you’re open to red-eyes or longer layovers.

2. Consider alternate airports.

When booking travel, don’t simply search for flights from your hometown airport. Driving an hour or two to another airport might allow you to land seriously cheaper fares. The same rule applies to your destination airport.

Consider a flight to San Francisco, for example. Many travelers would simply search for flights into San Francisco International Airport, but savvy flyers would also search flights into Oakland or even San Jose.

Don’t overlook smaller airports, either. In addition to its three major airports, New York is also served by national low-cost carriers flying into Westchester County (35 miles away), Long Island (55 miles) and Trenton, New Jersey (76 miles). If an airline is promoting a particular route, these smaller, easy-to-navigate airports could possibly save you not just money but time and hassle as well.

3. Break up a group purchase.

Airlines often offer their lowest fare for a limited number of tickets. This means you should avoid buying tickets for a large group of travelers in a single purchase.

For example, if you search flight prices for a group of six, you might find the cost is $300 per ticket. But if you search for, say, two tickets at a time instead, you might get four tickets at $250 each and two tickets priced at $300. In this scenario, you’d save $200!

4. Stay connected with your favorite airlines.

It pays to subscribe to e-newsletters offered by multiple airlines, and to follow them on social media. Many carriers, including Frontier Airlines, send member emails with discount codes and alerts about fares available only on their websites. Airlines also use their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to promote limited-time sales. For example, JetBlue Airways uses its Facebook page to announce destination-specific “flash sales” and 1-day systemwide sales.

5. Strike at the right time.

Long-range planners tend to zero in on specific travel dates and flights very early—sometimes too early, at least when it comes to travel within the U.S. or Canada. Data suggests that the best window for booking flights is six to eight weeks out for domestic and Canadian travel.

For international travel, the best time to buy varies by region—from roughly three months out for travel to Central and South America to nearly 11 months in advance for tickets to Asia. As a general rule, you’re more likely to miss out on a good fare to an international destination by booking late than by buying tickets early.

To monitor the price of your preferred flights, sign up for fare alerts from travel websites such as airfarewatchdog.com. Alerts can tell you not only today’s fares but how prices are trending so you can feel confident you’re buying at the best time. 

Save on your next vacation