When you’re looking at flights, you’re probably focused on the dollar amount listed next to your fight option. Aside from the cost of your seat, here are a few other expenses you might have to pay:
Checked Bag fees
Carry on fees
Snacks and drinks
Flight change fees
Sometimes, these fees get buried in the checkout process and aren’t included in the total ticket price. Budget airlines are particularly bad at this. The ticket might officially cost $200 but you have to pay an extra $25 to pick any seat.
A IdeaWorks report shows that some companies have higher fees than others. When you’re booking flights, Spirit, WOW Air, Allegiant, and Frontier are more likely to hit you with baggage fees and online booking fees. These four companies charge an average of $49.25 in extra fees per flight.
Some airlines appear to have low base rates but once you tack on extra fees, the total can quickly soar. For example, Spirit Airlines gets roughly 33% of their total revenue from online booking fees and another 11% from seating fees.
Not only do you have to deal with fees for extras, there’s a bunch of mandatory fees and taxes on your ticket:
Passenger Facility Charge
US Federal Domestic Segment Fee
US Travel Tax
Immigration User Fee
September 11 Security Fee
International Transportation Fee
Foreign Government Security Taxes
U.S Customs User Fee
Most of the time, these taxes and fees are added to the public price of your ticket. There won’t be any surprises.
There is one situation where they can bite you.
When you redeem a reward ticket, you still have to pay all these fees. For example, an international flight might cost 60,000 miles and $100 in fees and taxes.
Most of the time, this amount is so small that you’re basically getting the flight for free. But not always.
Some airlines pass on a lot more fees to you. They can get so large that the ticket no longer feels free. The worst offender is British Airways. You can still get stuck paying $300-500 for an award ticket.
The Worst Times to Fly
Airline fees aren’t the only thing that will affect the cost of your flights. The days you fly to and from your destination, as well as the time of day can impact your travel budget. Understandably, the most popular times to travel are also the most expensive.
The most expensive days to fly are:
The weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day
Late February through April (Spring Break)
Memorial Day to Labor Day
Week of Thanksgiving
One of my favorite holiday travel hacks is to fly on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. There’s a lot fewer people and the prices tend to be normal as opposed to sell-my-left-kidney high.
During major holidays, there’s really no escape. Almost every route gets more expensive.
Spring break tends to be more destination dependent. You can expect to pay higher prices for flights to Hawaii, Florida, or other tropical locations during that time. Flights to ski towns also get expensive.
What about specific times of the day? Is there a difference in pricing?
If you want to avoid paying the highest fares, skip booking your tickets late at night on Friday when tickets are likely to cost 3% more than the rest of the week.
The Best Times to Fly
If you want to score the biggest deals on flights, choose your travel days in the off-season. That means skipping flights around major holidays and popular travel times. You’re likely to score great flight tickets during the spring and fall.
Most tourist destinations get overwhelmed during the summer, June through August in particular. The main exception to this is popular winter destinations which get busy from December through March.
Traveling in the shoulder seasons is another favorite hack of mine. The weather’s still pretty good and the prices for airlines are a lot better.
The best times to score deals include:
September through November (before Thanksgiving)
April through May
You can save hundreds of dollars by shifting your vacation by a few weeks.
If you want to try and save an extra bit of money, try to book your flight around midnight on Tuesday. The rumor in travel circles is you’ll get a 5-7% discount. I’ve never tried it, I’d rather spend my time finding a better reward flight or less popular destination.
Does The Actual Booking Day Matter?
Yes. People prefer to travel on certain days. While it’s impossible to predict the exact cheapest date to fly, you can safely assume you’ll save at least a little bit of money on certain days of the week, even if you have to travel at busier times of the year.
If you want to increase your chance on major savings, look for flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Since most people enjoy taking long weekends, you’ll have higher fares and busier security lines on Friday and Monday. Thursday and Saturday fall in the middle.
I used to do a lot of travel for business and after while, you start to notice a few patterns. The business crowd hits flights hard on Mondays and Fridays. There’s a lot of people that travel for a full week of work and then head home. Weekends are swamped with tourists and families.
If you avoid those two crowds by flying on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, the cost of your flight will be a lot better. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Events, holidays, and popular destinations can all surge pricing regardless of the day.
How far out should you book your flight?
There is a lot of conflicting information online about how far out you should book your plane tickets. The rule that I’ve found to be most consistent is to buy my ticket about 70 days before my departure date. That’s assuming I’m paying full price. If I’m looking for an award ticket, I book the seat as soon as it becomes available.
If you’re making an emergency visit, expect to pay some of the most expensive prices. The average traveler will pay almost $100 more per ticket if they book one to two weeks out and expect to pay $200 or more per ticket within a week of your travel date.
Other Tips For Getting The Best Flight Deals
There are deals to be had if you’re willing to put in a little extra work. If you want to maximize your savings, here are a few other things you can do to make sure you get the best deal possible.
Set up flight alerts: Get alerts sent to your inbox or your cell phone when prices change. Certain sites like Kayak and Google Flights can give you weekly price updates so you can snag a seat when prices drop.
Be flexible: If you can change your travel by one or two days, you can save on your tickets. Make sure to check multiple routes and layover variations, if the budget is a major sticking point.
Try connecting flights: If you don’t mind taking a bit of time to get from point A to point B, try taking connecting flights instead of direct flights. While this will save money, I don’t do it myself. I’d much rather pay a little extra for a direct flight.
Choose a regional airline: If you’re not a stickler for major perks, flying with a regional airline can save you a lot. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Alaska are known for having lower rates than other airlines.
Using an airline rewards credit card: If you purchase your flights on an airline credit card, you may be able to save money on baggage fees or get priority seating. Many airlines offer their own credit cards that offer special perks and discounts that could save you a lot.
Switch airports: You could save a hundred dollars or more by simply switching to a different airport for your arrival or departure. Try looking at smaller airports outside the city, they usually have cheaper flights. For example, I’ve gotten good deals flying into Oakland instead of SFO.
Consider booking a package: If you know where you’re going, you may be able to save even more money by booking your hotel and flight together. Just be really careful with these packages, the quality can be horrible. Get a detailed itinerary from the travel company you’re working with and don’t go through with it if anything sounds off.
Try booking red-eye flights: If you don’t mind flying at off hours or trying to catch a few Z’s mid-air, taking a red-eye flight can cost less. As a bonus, you’ll have much shorter security lines and typically less crowded flights.
When in doubt, book earlier rather than later. While flight prices fluctuate, they’re more likely to increase at a higher percentage than drop. Even if rates drop after you purchase your tickets, you’ll likely still save more than if you’d waited until the last minute when rates are likely to go even higher.