How to Find the Best Airfare Deals Online

November 29, 2012

Book your trip very far in advance. No – wait until the last minute. The cheapest flights are out of small airports. Or is that large airports?

The different tips, tricks, and advice you’ll hear from friends and family or read online is enough to make your head spin when planning your next trip. And for the average American family, it is more important than ever to stretch your dollar as much as possible when making travel plans. So what tools are available online to help you?

Aggregate Sites, Deal Sites, and Member Only Sites

Not all travel sites fulfill the same purpose. The first two types of travel sites – aggregate sites and travel deal sites – will be most helpful when you have already picked out your location and dates, and simply need to know the best prices available to you.

An aggregate site is a website which searches all other travel sites and provides you with prices from other companies around the internet, including major airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. A good example is the popular website Kayak.com. These aggregate sites often can even provide you with prices from the second type of travel website – deal sites.

A deal site is a travel site which actually negotiates with the airline, hotel, or car rental company to offer you a “deal” on your travel plans. Companies like Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire fall into this category. They often give their customers the ability to assemble their travel purchases – airline, hotel, and car – all into differently grouped bundles for the best discounts.

Members’ only sites like Jetsetter or Snique Away, on the other hand, are a different type of travel deal site. You must be invited by an existing member to join these sites – though they are free to join – or you can often find an invite code in advertisements. These sites offer package vacations that you can use during a certain time period. And if you are just interested in a vacation and aren’t already attached to a specific location or time frame, these sites can offer great deals.

Which Site Should You Use?

Unfortunately, if you are really looking for the best deal, you’ll have to do the legwork. Often this means using both sites, or at least using an aggregate site that either grabs the best prices from deal sites or gives you the option to compare prices with popular deal sites. This feature will allow you to put your travel information in once, but submit it to multiple different websites.

And don’t forget about buying directly from the airline.  Surprisingly, this can often be how you find your best deal. People don’t realize that airlines are actually in competition with major travel deal sites.

Travel deal sites have gained such popularity that they are able to purchase their airline tickets in advance at a discount, which results in the savings they turn over to their customers. Having to sell discounted tickets to these companies in order to reach a specific customer market can be hard on the airlines.

So, as the time of travel approaches, if airlines still have availability they will often offer tickets at a cheaper price than you will find on the travel deal sites. These prices will still be picked up by the aggregate websites, which is often why they are more recommended than travel deal sites when looking for airline tickets.

Other Things to Consider

In addition to figuring out “what” type of site to use, many people have theories on “when” to use them. Some people claim that airlines offer their best deals on Tuesday afternoons and their worst on Saturday mornings.

There are many, many theories about how far in advance to purchase your tickets, and though these theories often contradict each other, there is some overlap. Generally speaking, if you can’t buy your tickets at least four weeks in advance, sometimes your best bet will be to wait until much closer to the date of travel to purchase. Of course, this is a risk many people can’t afford to take when traveling.

Regardless of what website you use, you need to keep in mind that some airline carriers and deal sites post their prices including taxes and fees while others simply post their baseline price. Once you get to the website to purchase your actual tickets or package, you may find that it is much more expensive than you originally thought, due to all the extra costs.

When searching for tickets, make sure you are comparing apples to apples – prices of companies where all the fees are included up front. It’s still worthwhile to check on the deals that don’t have all the extras included, because the original price difference may be so drastic that you’ll still end up with a better deal even after all fees have been accounted for.

Finally, remember the lowest priced airfare may not always be the “best” deal. Some special airfares are non-refundable, even in cases of emergency, and some come with extremely long layovers or extremely close plane changes – two issues that may easily be worth an extra $50 to avoid.

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