Some people will only fly first or business class, and good for them. But the rest of us should strive to be flexible flyers.
No, not the sleds of yesteryear (and today!). I’m talking about personal flexibility because that’s where travelers can find the biggest savings.
There are three tried-and-true methods of cutting costs through flexibility, and they work year-round.
1. Never fly when everyone wants to
There’s a reason Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break and summer are expensive; it’s when people want to fly. Cut costs by taking trips in off-peak periods such as early November, early December or January and February. If you really want to take a summer vacation, travel before mid-June or starting about the third week in August; still summer but significantly cheaper.
Or fly cheaper days. On domestic flights, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are usually a lot less expensive; Fridays and Sundays are typically the priciest. Example: Los Angeles to Kansas City flight in mid-January, round-trip fares found on FareCompare late last week (similar products may be found on other sites):
- Wed. to Sat., $99
- Fri. to Sun., $196
You won’t always see savings like this but obviously the difference can be impressive.
2. Never fly only the most convenient route
Another way of putting this is, non-stops are great but they can made airfares jump 60% or more! So always check prices for connecting flights, too. This example shows flights between Atlanta and Seattle on the same dates in mid-January:
- Non-stop: $342
- One-stop: $228
In this case, a family of four opting for connecting flights saves more than $450.
3. Never assume your airline is the cheapest
Many of us have a favorite airline that we swear by, often because it’s so cheap and favorites include Spirit and Southwest. But these airlines aren’t always the cheapest; no airline is. That means anyone who only visits a single airline site to shop for tickets may pay too much (and sometimes, way too much). Couple more examples:
Early flights from San Francisco to Dallas, each with a stop:
- Frontier, $192
- Southwest, $295
Another combo, from New York to Phoenix:
- Spirit, $416
- American, $289
One more thing: The more expensive Spirit fare is for a connecting flight; American’s cheaper fare is non-stop.
This is not to say that you won’t find plenty of good deals on Spirit and other discounters; you will. But not all the time, not for every flight. You have to compare airfares or you could pay too much. And why would anyone want to do that?
Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.