No one likes paying more than they should for something. But, without the right strategy you’ve been overpaying for plane tickets. That could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars up in smoke.
But, you can do better!
I’ve put together four mistakes to avoid when booking a flight. This list will help you sidestep common errors that even sophisticated travelers make. Put these into action today, and you’ll stop paying more than you should. Here goes…
Mistake #1: Buying too early or too late
In may sound counterintuitive, but you can buy your flights too early and miss out on deals. Most airlines open up sales for a flight 331 days in advance, about 11 months. For the next 3–4 months the fares will remain pretty steady as the airline determines demand. If it’s selling, the prices will go up. So you want to buy rather than wait.
But if it’s not selling that’s when the prices drop, and you score a deal. This sweet spot tends to be around 55–60 days out for domestic destinations. It varies between 90–120 days out for international destinations.
No matter what, the absolute worst time to book your trip is last minute. The day before is the most expensive and you’ll be paying a premium all the way back to 13 days in advance.
It’s a total myth that there are last minute price reductions for empty seats. If you book less than two weeks out the airline knows you need the flight so they keep the prices high.
To figure out what’s early, late and juuuust right, use a monitoring service. Good options include Hopper, Airfarewatchdog or Kayak. These will tell you, based on historical data, if you should buy or wait. As soon as you know your travel plans, plug them into one of these services to start tracking and get alerts on deals.
Mistake #2: Only searching one website before booking
No matter what you’re buying, you can save by price comparing. The same is true for flights, because not every booking site is equal.
Online travel agencies, like Expedia and Priceline, are good for airline options. But, the search engines don’t all display the same information. Or prices.
To ensure you get a good deal, check a few of these sites or use an aggregator like Skyscanner or Momondo. These two are my favorite tools because they pull prices from dozens of websites. You can compare the price on the airline website with all the online travel agencies.
Before buying your ticket, at least check two sites to price compare. If you’re dead set on getting a deal, use an aggregator and check a calendar tool like Google Flights.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve found the best sites that consistently offer the best deals. Here are a few I like to check when shopping for a ticket:
You can also shift things like departure city, layovers, return city and dates to lower your price.
Mistake #3: Flying on a Monday or Friday
The most common mistake people make is booking tickets when demand is at a peak.
If lots of travelers want to fly on a particular day or route, the prices should go up. That’s simple price economics.
To avoid this mistake you should book your trips for the opposite times as everyone else. Flying on Mondays and Fridays tends to be more expensive because demand is higher. Mondays are often when business travelers start their trips. And, Fridays are popular for leisure travelers who want to get out before the weekend starts.
The day of the week you leave and return is WAY more important than the day of the week you book. Sometimes changing your flight by one day can save you hundreds of dollars! The best days to fly are midweek and Saturdays.
On these “dip days” prices tend to dip, sometimes by a couple hundred dollars. For domestic US flights, the best day to leave is Wednesday. The worst days are Sundays, which on average cost $40 more. Tuesdays are best for returns and Fridays are the worst. If you’re traveling international, Wednesdays are the best day to leave and to return.
Starting your trip on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will generally cost less. Most booking tools will also show you a fare calendar with prices for the week. Be sure to look through these to find the best day to leave or return.
Mistake #4: Not using nearby airports
Shopping around applies to both the booking site AND your airport selection. Before you book, you should explore your options.
For instance, if you’re flying out of London you have five different airports you can use. Check the pricing for each one to find the best deal.
If you live near a small airport and large airport, always check the prices for the bigger airport. In most cases, bigger airports have better deals, and it may be worth the extra effort. Be sure to factor in the cost of the extra gas and parking to know the distance is worth your time.
Your comparison can extend to airports in other cities too. If money is more important than time, consider an indirect route to your destination.
Say you want to go from Paris to Bali but the prices are too expensive for this route. You can look at other routes in the area, such as Paris to Bangkok, Paris to Kuala Lumpur or Paris to Shanghai. If you book one of these alternatives on the cheap, you can then buy a low-cost flight with a budget airline.
When I travel out of Seattle, I also check the airports for Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR for ticket prices. I’ve found many times, a three-hour road trip could save me $300-$500 on flights. At $100 an hour for my time, I’ll take that trade.
Again, the key here is to think about what you’ll need to sacrifice in time to get the cost savings. You don’t want to give up your sanity to save a few hundred dollars.
Save even more… now that you know the 4 airfare shopping mistakes, I’ve created a SIMPLE (free!) cheat sheet to help you book your next flight…If you’re ready to plan your next trip and get guaranteed flight deals, you’re in the right place.
I’ve been doing globetrotting for over 5 years now and I’ve made MANY mistakes along the way. You don’t need to do the same! I’ve compiled a list of 5 of my top secrets to finding the best flight prices, hands down!
I'm Natasha Ho, a trained chef and avid traveler. I've studied culinary traditions from cuisines around the world, and I help food lovers learn how to cook a wide variety of meals that are consistently delicious so they can have more fun, ease and joy in their kitchen.