Most of us intuitively associate vacation and travel with huge expenses. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right kind of planning plus a few clever tricks and tips, it’s possible to enjoy travel without ripping a hole in the budget.
Face it, the most expensive and challenging part of trip—plane tickets. And even in the face of sky-high prices, it is still possible to get over this hurdle with your budget intact and a flight schedule you and your family can live with. From booking too early to not considering all options, here are eleven mistakes to avoid when booking your next flight.
1. Booking Through Third-Party Travel Sites
Third-party travel sites such as Kayak, Expedia, Cheap-o Air, Hopper are online travel agencies with metasearch engines. Use their search engines to find flights, but you will come to regret purchasing flghts, hotels, or other travel services offered through online travel agents.
It took one horrible experience for me to learn this very expensive lesson. I bought my “cheap” flight on United through Expedia. The first leg of the trip was delayed so long, I missed my connection in Denver. United staff instructed that all passengers in this same situation proceed to Customer Service for rebooking.
I stood in line for what seemed like hours, only to reach the podium and learn that since I had not booked my flight directly with United, I would have to contact my travel agent for help. I had no choice but to purchase a new, super-expensive ticket on the spot and deal with Expedia later.
What a nightmare. I never did get a refund, forget any satisfaction. But I did learn a very important lesson: Use third-party search engines for information, but always book directly with the airline.
2. Setting Travel Dates in Stone
While this strategy won’t work for you if your travel plans are rigid—can only get specific days off, for example—being flexible with your travel dates means cheaper plane tickets.
Look at the difference in price if you change your departure and or return dates by a day or two. Online travel sites such as Google Flights, Hopper, and SkyScanner provide convenient tools that allow you to play travel agent by exploring different dates, destinations, and prices.
3. Buying Tickets on the Wrong Days
This is a little tricky, and I cannot prove it conclusively. But my own research and that of experts I respect point to this fact:
Buying plane tickets on weekends when demand is higher will likely cost you slightly more compared to booking during the week.
According to a study conducted by Google, tickets were indeed found to be 1.9% cheaper when booked on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, compared to the weekend. The study also concluded that flying during the week was approximately 12% cheaper than the weekend
4. Avoiding Red-Eyes
Red-eye flights, which depart late at night and arrive early in the morning, are usually cheaper than regular flights due to their less desirable travel times. Although it can be tiring to wake up in the middle of the night for a flight, there are a few advantages beyond cost savings. Red-eye flights often offer the benefit of fewer crowds during TSA screenings, providing a smoother and quicker airport experience.
5. Dissing A-la-carte Airlines
Several airlines such as Frontier and Spirit, have become what is known as a la carte carriers. While they may offer a bundle option, basically, you pay a separate fee for everything: ticket, seat, carry-on bag, checked bag, water, etc. It can be frustrating. But crossing these airlines off your list can be a big mistake.
The secret here is to take the entire cost of the flight—all items added together—for your comparison. And then whittle down as you can to get to the barebones cost. Take the cheapest seat. Get everything into one “personal item,” which even these airlines allow you to carry on for no fee. Learn about airline’s specific quirks and requirements. Find a way to comply, and you just might save a lot over other options.
6. Ignoring Nearby Airports
To land more affordable plane tickets, consider expanding your search to include nearby airports, particularly if your departure or destination city is in proximity to major connecting hubs. Major airports often offer lower-priced tickets compared to smaller ones. Just make sure you calculate transportation and accommodation expenses to assess whether the savings outweigh the additional travel time.
7. Always Buying the Cheapest Fare
While it may be tempting to click on the most basic economy fare, it may not always be the cheapest choice. Budget airlines typically offer bare-bone amenities that do not include add-ons like seat assignments, checked bags, and even carry-on luggage. When you factor in these added expenses, they could end up costing more than the main cabin fare from a legacy airline. To avoid falling prey to this mistake reread #1 above.
8. Not Leveraging Credit Card Rewards
Frequent travelers are well-acquainted with credit card programs that offer points and miles accumulation through their journeys. Travel credit cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture provide opportunities to earn airline points and miles on travel and everyday purchases, too. It’s worth consulting your credit card provider to explore ways to maximize rewards and save on a range of travel expenses, including plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, and more.
9. Not Setting Up Price Alerts
Another way to discover cost-effective plane tickets—take advantage of price alert features offered by online travel sites like Hopper, Kayak, and Google Flights, especially if your travel plans are flexible. With a price alert, you’ll receive text or email notifications whenever there’s a great deal available. This approach is particularly beneficial when you are open to booking last-minute tickets, as airlines are known to reduce prices to fill the remaining seats on upcoming flights.
10. Booking Too Early
If you’ve been told to “buy your tickets as early as possible,” don’t take that too seriously. That advice is outdated. If you make the mistake of booking too far in advance, you may end up paying more than necessary for your plane tickets. ‘
Airlines often release their most discounted fares at a later stage, so booking more than six months ahead can result in higher costs. This is because airlines initially set their prices conservatively, so waiting for a more optimal time to book can help you secure better deals. A study by CheapAir.com found the sweet spot to buy is generally 76 days before departure.
11. Overlooking One-Way Tickets
While opting for a round-trip ticket is generally more affordable and easier to deal with, there are instances where booking separate one-way flights can unveil unexpected savings — especially if you’re open to flying with different airlines. This strategy tends to be most effective when you’re flexible with your choice of airlines for the arrival and departure legs of your travels.