The internet has made it a lot easier to find your own flight, hotel room, car rental and detailed information on activities offered in a specific destination. Rather than calling the airline directly, you can do a bit of browsing online to get up to date, relevant information on all kinds of vacation destinations.
It also makes sense to book online. Not only are the fares often lower, but you avoid the booking fee which is now assessed by most of the airlines if you book over the phone with an agent. This fee usually varies from $5 to $15 per transaction. Even basic trips with frequent flyer miles can now be booked online, thus avoiding the booking fee.
The biggest and most well known of the travel websites still account for much of the online airfare business and are all fairly easy to use. You input your departure and destination city, dates of travel and number of passengers. In just a moment, you have your results on the screen in front of you. In some cases, several pages of results appear so be sure to check them carefully; the cheapest of the options is usually the first one in the display.
Although it’s easy to find and book cheap flights online, there are some strategies that can help you get an even lower fare. Flexibility is important to getting the lowest airfare. Not only the time of year and the day of the week you travel, but even the time of day can make a difference. Traveling at inconvenient times such as early morning or overnight can lower the airfare; and in many international markets, midweek travel is cheaper than weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) travel. Combining airlines or flying in and out of two different cities is nearly always more expensive.
When searching for cheap flights online, always indicate that your dates and times of travel are flexible, if the site has that feature. This option can be worded differently on different sites. It may say something such as “my travel dates are flexible” or perhaps “check fares before and after the dates I gave”. In that case, check the applicable box to make sure you get all the possible options. You may find there is a big difference in fares depending on the date, time and number of connections required.
Flexibility of your departure and arriving airport is also important when it comes to booking a cheap flight. Sometimes fares can vary between nearby airports. If you are flying into or out of New York, check fares for all three NY airports – JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. Heading for Chicago? Often fares into Midway airport are lower than those for the nearby and much larger O’Hare airport. If you are flying into Los Angeles, you may want to check fares that arrive at nearby airports such as San Diego, Orange County and Long Beach. The web site may check these options for you, or you may have to specifically request them yourself. As time consuming as this process may be, it can be absolutely worth the effort.
If you travel frequently to the same destination, or are planning a trip some time ahead of the dates, consider signing up for advance notification of sale fares. Most of the travel and airline sites offer this feature, which may go by different names, such as fare alert or tracker or last minute specials, etc. This notification of impending lower fares or airfare sales is usually emailed to you or the information will appear on the home page when you access the airline’s site and log in. This can be particularly useful if you have to travel on short notice. Airlines will sometimes lower fares to sell empty seats if you can buy your ticket a day or two beforehand.
If you are booking your flight online, always read the fare rules. It is often easy to overlook or ignore these. With most of the airlines, the cheaper fares are nearly always non-refundable and have a charge for changing them, often $150.00 or more. Although, if you don’t fly as scheduled, you can usually use the ticket as credit against a future trip.
Some cheap fares booked online do not permit upgrades, mileage accrual or the option to fly standby for other flights. Also, certain types of fares don’t allow you to book them online, such as student fares, government and senior fares and bereavement fares. When dealing with these types of fares, it is worth calling the airline as they may be cheaper.
Last but not least, if you are booking a plane ticket online, make sure that it is in the name of the person traveling and matches their photo ID. The airline may charge you to change it or even worse, may not allow any changes to the name at all.