Airfares are taking off. According to Travelocity, the average round-trip domestic airfare this Thanksgiving is $386, up 9 percent from last year.
But if you’ve got the will, there’s always a way to land an airfare bargain.
If your itinerary for travel savings begins and ends with a trip to an online travel agent like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity, you could easily miss out on a lower fare. You could also miss out if you confine your search to sites that aggregate fares, like Cheapflights, Kayak, or Mobissimo.
That’s because the best fares might be available from the place many travelers neglect to check: the airlines themselves. In the following video, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains why.
As Stacy mentioned, some airlines have been offering lower prices on their websites to keep fliers from online agencies and aggregator sites. The reason is simple: They want to avoid paying commissions of roughly $10 to $25 per ticket.
Toronto-based Porter Airlines, for example, offers savings of up to 50 percent on its website. Southwest, the lowest-cost carrier in many markets, has never offered fares on sites other than its own.
At least one other airline isn’t stopping with incentives – they’re also placing restrictions on passengers that don’t book from them directly. Frontier Airlines recently announced that failing to book from their site will result in half the frequent flier miles, higher fees, and no ability to get a seat assignment until check-in.
Bottom line? If your goal is the best possible deal, you might not find it with one-stop shopping. Use an online agency or aggregator to see the options, but don’t book until you also check the airline’s site.
More tips for extra savings…
1. Follow your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook
Many airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta, tweet hourly, offering info about deals and discounted fares.
2. Sign up for email alerts
Sign up for deal alerts to be emailed or texted to you. I get weekly emails from Airfarewatchdog to stay informed about the lowest fares out of my local airport. You can also personalize your settings so you’ll be alerted when that flight to Aruba drops in price. Some other great options for alerts: Smartertravel.com and TripAdvisor.com/Flights.
3. Look for discount codes
Don’t ever buy a plane ticket (or anything else) without searching for a coupon code. It only takes a few seconds: Simply go to your favorite search engine and type in “(Airline) Promo Code.” And if you need them, check for promo codes on rental cars and hotels while you’re at it.
4. Fly on less popular days and times
As we said in last year’s 7 Steps to Cheaper Airfares, try to book an early morning Tuesday or Wednesday flight. Airlines also tend to charge less for the first flight out each day, and weekly price wars between airlines work in your favor on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
5. Consider traveling in shoulder seasons
Going to Europe? Consider flying in late August or September, when prices tend to drop. Early December or after mid-April are good times to find lower fares for the Caribbean.
6. Consider crowdsourcing
Earlier this year, we told you about a site called Flightfox , run by experts (also known as “flight hackers”) who compete to find you the best flight. Finder’s fees start at $24, but if you aren’t satisfied, the service is 100 percent refundable.
7. Compare airports
Being picky about airports can cost you. That’s why travel search engines like Kayak include that little box that says “add nearby airports” – check it and you might see lower rates. For example, testing a round-trip ticket from Miami to Los Angeles found a low price of $430 the week before Christmas, but when including nearby airports, Kayak found a $389 ticket flying out of Fort Lauderdale instead.
8. Use your frequent flier miles
If you’re not already enrolled in a frequent flier program, you might want to sign up for one. When deciding which one to use, consider where you’ll be flying frequently and which airlines you’ll travel with. Also consider what type of tickets you’ll be buying and if the airline offers useful upgrades for you.
9. Avoid baggage fees
Choose an airline that has a low-cost or no-cost baggage policy. Fly Southwest and you can check two bags for free. With JetBlue , you’ll get one bag in for free. United Airlines is a different story, charging $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, as we explained in 10 Tips to Save on Baggage Fees.
10. Beware of pricing glitches
In June, we told you Delta Airlines was charging higher airfares to frequent fliers when they logged into their account, and lower fares when they were not logged in. These matters have since been addressed and resolved, but it taught us a lesson. Be sure to perform multiple airfare searches.
11. Book early
Planning ahead can give you a good jump on savings. Rates start rising two weeks from the flight date, according to FareCompare.com. They recommend booking two to 12 weeks out.
12. Name your own price
Sites like Priceline.com let you make the price offer, but require flexibility in exchange: You don’t know the airline, departure time, or layovers until you buy. You also can’t earn frequent flier miles. The price can be significantly lower than published fares, though – up to 50 percent in some cases.