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Airfare tips, tricks, and suggestions


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We are sailing out of Seattle to Alaska on the Ovation of the seas in May of 2020. We will be coming from the east coast and fly into SeaTac... I'm fairly savvy when it comes to trip planning and such. I love to research and review all aspects of a trip. But, typically we drive to Florida and leave out or port Canaveral or Tampa for our cruises. Next year we will be flying and wanted to get some tips regarding purchase of airfare, including the timing of buying tickets. I've read online all the statistics about the optimal time frame to buy airfare... but wanted to get any tips from people here. 
Any secrets or tips to getting a good deal? I'm already 'tracking' prices now... from multiple airports, multiple airlines, and different combination of days to fly in and fly out. But always open to tips and tricks. Also, do you usually book air fare yourselves, or let your TA handle it? Can they typically get a little bit better price on flights, or will it basically be the same as what I can find online?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts, tips, and/or tricks of the trade.

 

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I'm picky when it comes to seats, times, etc so I'll try and book flights earlier to get a decent seat at an optimal time even if it costs me more...

With that said, my tip, and maybe you're aware but there are two levels of economy these days for some airlines (United, AA, etc) and to me basic economy sucks (might be fine for others). So, just read the details about the type of ticket you're purchasing.

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Just now, sk8erguy1978 said:

I'm picky when it comes to seats, times, etc so I'll try and book flights earlier to get a decent seat at an optimal time even if it costs me more...

With that said, my tip, and maybe you're aware but there are two levels of economy these days for some airlines (United, AA, etc) and to me basic economy sucks (might be fine for others). So, just read the details about the type of ticket you're purchasing.

Yea. We are definitely going to be getting premium economy seats at a minimum. Maybe even splurge for 1st class since we have to go X-country. We've been banking up the travel miles/points to help pay for some of that extra cost to splurge on the nicer seats. ? 

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For domestic airfare I would just book yourself.  A TA isn't going to be able to provide you much of an advantage when booking flights over what you can accomplish on your own.

There are several flight pricing aggregation tools out there that can help you get a baseline of what the flights are running for you to track.  These tools don't include a lot of the low cost carriers or bargain carriers, so those have to be searched directly through the flight's website.  The first step I take when pricing flights is to play with Google Flights and the Hopper app.  I also never purchase through a third party and go directly through the airline.  This gives you the control over your own reservation which makes it much easier should anything happen.

For domestic airfare unless it's over a major holiday, I've noticed that the cheapest prices tend to be found within 45-90 days of the flight.  Southwest is one exception as their cheapest fares are often priced low when fares are first released.  Those fares only really drop if a flight isn't selling particularly well.  

If you're not averse to opening up credit cards sometimes it's worth a year's annual fee for some of the credit card perks (free bags) and sign-on bonus.

I have to play this game every time that I fly because my home airport is much smaller and we have no low cost carriers.  With several people it's often cheaper to travel 3-4 hours to a larger airport even when you factor in cost/parking or a rental car to the airport.  Make sure you keep all those added costs in mind if you are going to travel a bit to a different airport as well.  Sometimes it's not as much of a savings as you would think.  I know I will sometimes pay a higher price for the convenience of flying into my home airport and not having that extra 3-4 hours travel when my trip is over -- especially after a cruise!

My Ovation cruise is June 2020..so I will be doing the airfare search song and dance myself for the first part of 2020 trying to figure it all out.

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25 minutes ago, vanelli56 said:

Yea. We are definitely going to be getting premium economy seats at a minimum. Maybe even splurge for 1st class since we have to go X-country. We've been banking up the travel miles/points to help pay for some of that extra cost to splurge on the nicer seats. ? 

I love my miles lol

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My experience has been that airfare rarely goes down. And prices have been higher than normal recently... not sure if it’s trickle down from the MAX8 issues or what (seeing it across the board, not just SWA). 

My trick when I know I’ve got a large air expenditure coming up is to use CC rewards - either save up cash back, open an airline CC for the signup bonus FF points, or a combination of the two. We always pay our cards in full every month so might as well get the perks for money we’d be spending anyway. ?

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54 minutes ago, AshleyDillo said:

For domestic airfare I would just book yourself.  A TA isn't going to be able to provide you much of an advantage when booking flights over what you can accomplish on your own.

There are several flight pricing aggregation tools out there that can help you get a baseline of what the flights are running for you to track.  These tools don't include a lot of the low cost carriers or bargain carriers, so those have to be searched directly through the flight's website.  The first step I take when pricing flights is to play with Google Flights and the Hopper app.  I also never purchase through a third party and go directly through the airline.  This gives you the control over your own reservation which makes it much easier should anything happen.

For domestic airfare unless it's over a major holiday, I've noticed that the cheapest prices tend to be found within 45-90 days of the flight.  Southwest is one exception as their cheapest fares are often priced low when fares are first released.  Those fares only really drop if a flight isn't selling particularly well.  

If you're not averse to opening up credit cards sometimes it's worth a year's annual fee for some of the credit card perks (free bags) and sign-on bonus.

I have to play this game every time that I fly because my home airport is much smaller and we have no low cost carriers.  With several people it's often cheaper to travel 3-4 hours to a larger airport even when you factor in cost/parking or a rental car to the airport.  Make sure you keep all those added costs in mind if you are going to travel a bit to a different airport as well.  Sometimes it's not as much of a savings as you would think.  I know I will sometimes pay a higher price for the convenience of flying into my home airport and not having that extra 3-4 hours travel when my trip is over -- especially after a cruise!

My Ovation cruise is June 2020..so I will be doing the airfare search song and dance myself for the first part of 2020 trying to figure it all out.

agree with all of the above. I started tracking prices for the major carriers on google flights about a month ago... b/c thats when the routes opened up. I have noticed most of my flights tracked have ticked up in price lately... which seems to follow the trend line of airfare pricing at this point.... so hopefully the trend will continue. We also will most likely wait until early 2020 to actually reserve our flights. That should be when the trend line shows the prices should start to decline. But, I have a good idea of the price range anyway... so if I catch a random day that prices just happen to drop... I may go ahead and lock it in. 

 

I agree on the airport situation. We have a mid sized airport 2 miles from us.... another regional AP about 45 mins away, and then two major airports about 1.5 hours away. So I check airfares from each. Sometimes the regionals are cheaper... sometimes the larger ones win. But yea, we put a time/price factor to having to drive to the distant airports vs. ticket price. 

 

Thanks for the tips so far.... keep them coming. 

 

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The only thing I can tell you is to check, a lot. Incognito mode. My flight to Italy I checked almost daily, and caught a crazy glitch where I got my flight for $850, roundtrip...for the remainder of the six months until I actually flew the exact flight never went below $1400 and mainly stayed at $1600.

Another example. Last night I checked for an upcoming trip to Texas - It was $346. This morning I checked again, $286.

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1 hour ago, AshleyDillo said:

For domestic airfare I would just book yourself.  A TA isn't going to be able to provide you much of an advantage when booking flights over what you can accomplish on your own.

There are several flight pricing aggregation tools out there that can help you get a baseline of what the flights are running for you to track.  These tools don't include a lot of the low cost carriers or bargain carriers, so those have to be searched directly through the flight's website.  The first step I take when pricing flights is to play with Google Flights and the Hopper app.  I also never purchase through a third party and go directly through the airline.  This gives you the control over your own reservation which makes it much easier should anything happen.

For domestic airfare unless it's over a major holiday, I've noticed that the cheapest prices tend to be found within 45-90 days of the flight.  Southwest is one exception as their cheapest fares are often priced low when fares are first released.  Those fares only really drop if a flight isn't selling particularly well.  

If you're not averse to opening up credit cards sometimes it's worth a year's annual fee for some of the credit card perks (free bags) and sign-on bonus.

I have to play this game every time that I fly because my home airport is much smaller and we have no low cost carriers.  With several people it's often cheaper to travel 3-4 hours to a larger airport even when you factor in cost/parking or a rental car to the airport.  Make sure you keep all those added costs in mind if you are going to travel a bit to a different airport as well.  Sometimes it's not as much of a savings as you would think.  I know I will sometimes pay a higher price for the convenience of flying into my home airport and not having that extra 3-4 hours travel when my trip is over -- especially after a cruise!

My Ovation cruise is June 2020..so I will be doing the airfare search song and dance myself for the first part of 2020 trying to figure it all out.

These are mostly all of my tricks also, I start tracking way out, but get serious at around 120 days, the thing about looking to far out is that the airline really doesn't know fuel cost yet so they tend to hedge on the high side, the closer you get the more locked in the fuel prices will be, @twangster pointed this out.

The only other one I've heard, but it has never personally worked for me is to price multiple one way tickets instead of round trips, like I said, this has never worked out for me.

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2 hours ago, AshleyDillo said:

If you're not averse to opening up credit cards sometimes it's worth a year's annual fee for some of the credit card perks (free bags) and sign-on bonus.

Barclay Bank is currently giving 60,000 bonus miles for their American Airlines Aviator card. Well worth the $99 fee, especially with the free bags and priority boarding, etc. As a matter of fact, we are considering getting a second one for DW, depending on travel plans.

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4 hours ago, vanelli56 said:

Yea. We are definitely going to be getting premium economy seats at a minimum. Maybe even splurge for 1st class since we have to go X-country. We've been banking up the travel miles/points to help pay for some of that extra cost to splurge on the nicer seats. ? 

Keep in mind that true "premium economy" doesn't generally exist on domestic US flights. You may be getting an "economy plus" product, but that's usually just a few extra inches of legroom. Premium Economy is generally a wider seat, more legroom, and upgraded amenities (such as better meals, etc.). Many people confuse the two, but they're very different (with very different pricing as well)

4 hours ago, BunnyHutt said:

My experience has been that airfare rarely goes down. And prices have been higher than normal recently... not sure if it’s trickle down from the MAX8 issues or what (seeing it across the board, not just SWA). 

My trick when I know I’ve got a large air expenditure coming up is to use CC rewards - either save up cash back, open an airline CC for the signup bonus FF points, or a combination of the two. We always pay our cards in full every month so might as well get the perks for money we’d be spending anyway. ?

The MAX is really a small part of it. It's an impact, but not a big one. MAX makes up only 4.5% of Southwest's current fleet, only 1.8% of United's fleet, and only 2.5% of American's fleet. Now, they can use the "MAX is grounded, our capacity is way down, we have to charge more!!" line to justify higher prices, but in reality it's not much of an impact on their fleet size. The biggest thing is that the US economy is just doing really, really well right now, so more people have more money to travel for both work and pleasure, increasing demand faster than fleet size. This is why prices are up. When the US economy goes back down over the next few years (because economies always go up and down), the prices may very well go back down. But for now, in this economy, they'll stay high because demand is high.

3 hours ago, ellcee said:

The only thing I can tell you is to check, a lot. Incognito mode. My flight to Italy I checked almost daily, and caught a crazy glitch where I got my flight for $850, roundtrip...for the remainder of the six months until I actually flew the exact flight never went below $1400 and mainly stayed at $1600.

Another example. Last night I checked for an upcoming trip to Texas - It was $346. This morning I checked again, $286.

I fly 125,000+ BIS miles each year, and book flights for others totaling several hundred thousand miles more each year. I have never, ever, ever seen any proof that using something like Incognito mode helps. An airline would, frankly, be stupid to do it...if American and Delta are offering the same price, but American sees your IP address constantly looking up the same flights and decides to raise the fare in some mythical effort to pressure you to buy, but Delta doesn't, you'll likely just go over to Delta. Thus, American has lost your business because of it. Not a very smart business move by American.

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4 hours ago, vanelli56 said:

agree with all of the above. I started tracking prices for the major carriers on google flights about a month ago... b/c thats when the routes opened up. I have noticed most of my flights tracked have ticked up in price lately... which seems to follow the trend line of airfare pricing at this point.... so hopefully the trend will continue. We also will most likely wait until early 2020 to actually reserve our flights. That should be when the trend line shows the prices should start to decline. But, I have a good idea of the price range anyway... so if I catch a random day that prices just happen to drop... I may go ahead and lock it in. 

 

I agree on the airport situation. We have a mid sized airport 2 miles from us.... another regional AP about 45 mins away, and then two major airports about 1.5 hours away. So I check airfares from each. Sometimes the regionals are cheaper... sometimes the larger ones win. But yea, we put a time/price factor to having to drive to the distant airports vs. ticket price. 

 

Thanks for the tips so far.... keep them coming. 

 

Also consider what time of the year you are flying.  If you are going in the winter you will want to minimize the connections. I refuse to fly anywhere that I have to change planes during the winter months as the risks multiply out of my comfort zone quickly.  Even though AA is my normal airline, when we fly to Bayonne to cruise, I fly United b/c AA does not fly direct to Newark from DCA.

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Also as I have found in my west coast trip investigating don't be hard set on flying into the exact destination. 

When I originally looked at booking Alaska 2020, I was at the point where it was cheaper to fly to Seattle (or somewhere in Oregon) and then take the train up to Seattle or Vancouver. Definitely check out those options as well. 

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9 minutes ago, FloridaCruiseGirl1210 said:

Also as I have found in my west coast trip investigating don't be hard set on flying into the exact destination. 

When I originally looked at booking Alaska 2020, I was at the point where it was cheaper to fly to Seattle (or somewhere in Oregon) and then take the train up to Seattle or Vancouver. Definitely check out those options as well. 

Yes, this is definitely the case where flying in to/out of Canada adds some (sometimes substantial) money, often in the form of taxes. Flying in to a US city and then getting across the border by land is common for both Americans and Canadians. Just make sure you add actual cost on top of "opportunity cost" for lack of a better term, and remember that you're not protected like you would be a for a flight. Missing a train because a flight is delayed, or vice versa, often means you're SOL since they are not on the same ticket (much like purchasing separate plane tickets, let's say Southwest LAX-SEA and Alaska SEA-ANC...if Southwest gets you to Seattle five hours late and you miss your Alaska flight, too bad, neither airline cares and you may very well find yourself purchasing a last minute, walk-up fare).

Just things to consider, always.

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