Either way, this is a longish preamble to get to the point that no, I don't have any current experience flying, either locally or abroad. For that matter, I've never even bought an airline ticket myself- I only ever flew when I was living under my parents' roof or partially being supported by them. So I am definitely not an expert in this matter.
However, I've been asked a few times how to get airfare cheaply, especially lately, since summer is the time that most people think of traveling. I'll tell you one thing- airfare is never cheap! The question is- can you get airfare for just an arm and a leg, and not an arm, a leg, and a million bucks? After being asked do check it out, I did lots and research and discovered that fortunately, there are ways to lower the cost of airfare. Here are some of them.
If you want more info, you probably should check out frugal travel blogs. (But seriously, can travel ever be called frugal? Or just "not as hideously expensive"?)
This is based on an article I wrote for my magazine column.
When To Buy Tickets:
Airlines only start releasing cheaper seats 3-4 months before domestic departures and 4-5 months before international departure dates, so while planning far in advance may seem wisest, booking tickets too far in advance may cost you extra. At the same time, don't buy too close to the departure date, as prices go up close to the date.
If you do need last minute travel plans because of an illness or death, God forbid, inquire whether or not the airline has the option for bereavement or emergency illness fare. (Some airlines require proof like a death certificate.)
The best time to shop for domestic flights is Tuesday at 3 pm, ET, right after the new fares are released for the week and competition is highest.
Cheapest Time to Travel
Traveling when most inconvenient and least popular vacation times makes fares cheaper. Red eye (overnight) and early morning flights are cheapest; next cheapest are during or directly after lunch and dinner hours.
Wednesday, Tuesday, and Saturday are the cheapest time to travel, Sunday and Friday being most expensive. Holidays and summer vacation are the most expensive time to travel; cheapest flights can be found during the school year, when most people are working. Pushing off traveling instead of traveling during the summer has other benefits, like less crowding, not to mention, usually more pleasant weather.
How To Fly to Make it Cheapest
Depending on the desired destination, it may be cheaper to book one ticket to one place, then another flight to the destination, (even with a different airline) than to purchase a direct flight.
Search for flights from all the airports in the area; you may find a cheaper flight from an airport an hour or two away from your home. I remember once my sister and I got summer jobs a few states over. By driving an hour away to a smaller airport with only domestic flights instead of the nearby big international airport, we were able to get airfare to the same destination for a third of the standard price.
Pack lightly, especially now that airlines are introducing more baggage fees. If possible, bring only carry on. If checking luggage, make sure to weigh the luggage before coming to the airport and adjust accordingly, so you don't get any large overweight fees. When I flew last, my suitcase was weigh too heavy and I had to pay a hefty fine...
If you just want to vacation, but don't need to go to a specific place, consider going someplace else, with the same amenities as the first place, but with cheaper airfare.
How to Buy Tickets Cheaply
Sign up for airline email alerts. Many airlines have the option to sign up for destination specific deals for flights. Sites like Farecompare.com, Airfarewatchdog.com and Yapta.com allow you to sign up and be notified of deals going to your desired location. Make sure to mark “flexible dates” to help find the cheapest airfare deals.
If you book a ticket and the price of the same itinerary drops, in many cases you can obtain a refund. Monitor ticket pricing even after you purchase your ticket; if the price drops, calling the airline directly will often get them to honor the lower fare. Websites like Yapta.com will send you an alert if the price of airfare drops after your purchase.
When searching for cheap tickets on the internet, even if you have more than one person traveling, search for single tickets, not large quantities; if there are only two cheaper seats available, you'll be able to purchase two at the lower price and two at a higher price.
If you enjoy traveling but don't want to spend money on airfare, and are on top of your finances and live well within your means, consider getting a credit card that offers airline miles as a reward for using the card. (Don't use this method if there is any chance that you won't pay your credit card bill in full every month, as the fees you'll accumulate will be more than you end up saving.)
Bumping to Save Money
When an airline overbooks and too many people show up for a flight, and then there isn't room for everyone, airlines will often bump a passenger- kicking him off the plane, compensating him, and putting him on the next available flight. If you're flying and have some room and flexibility in your schedule, volunteering to get yourself bumped off a flight can save you money or even make money. The compensation could be as little as a $50 voucher or it could be as much as a free ticket. Some airlines cut the vouchers, so ensure that you'll get a good deal before agreeing to be bumped. Get agreements in writing, along with the agent's name and employee number.
In order to increase the likelihood of getting bumped, reserve a flight at the last minute, when its nearly full.
Heavily traveled days and small bodied aircrafts like 727 and 737 are more likely to need to bump people.
If your rebooked flight is oversold, offer to be bumped once again, to make even more money.
How often do you fly? Do you enjoy flying?
What do you do to lower the cost of airfare? Do you use any of these tips?