Finding Cheap Flights for Memorial Day Weekend

This year, Memorial Day is on the early side, Monday, May 27. If you plan to forego the grill in favor of jumping on a plane, you don’t have a moment to waste. Some tips to help speed things along – and help you save money.

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Airfare Prices Flat

There is some good news, according to airfare analyst Rick Seaney. “Our data shows prices are flat for the Memorial Day weekend compared to last year for Thursday/Friday departures and Sunday/Monday returns,” said Seaney “but airfare is about 15% lower if you can turn your trip into an extended weekend by departing Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Find a cheap flight right now

Getting Started

Two important things to keep in mind.

1. Shop now. As analyst Seaney points out, “Start looking for and buying your airline tickets now, since the dividing line between cheaper and much more expensive flights is almost upon us – the 14-day-before-departure window.” You actually have a little more time with the so-called discount carriers, but maybe just a week or so.

2. Compare prices. This sounds so basic, but many skip right to their favorite airline’s website and make their purchases. The problem is you may pay too much. Sometimes your favorite will have the best deals, and sometimes they won’t – but you won’t know unless you check an airfare comparison shopping site.

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When to Fly for Cheapest Flights

First, check out sales on the Deals Blog, but look at the blackout dates carefully – some airline sales specifically exclude their better deals from dates around this pre-summer holiday.

Choose cheaper days: This can vary from airline to airline, another reason for using a comparison search site. However generally speaking – here are The Rules:

  • Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly.
  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are usually the cheapest days to fly

Tip: Try starting off a Memorial Day weekend on the late side with a Saturday departure, or begin early by leaving on Tuesday or Wednesday. Prices for Sunday or Monday returns are about the same but prices drop again on Tuesday or Wednesday. As you shop, juggle these dates and see what works best for you.

Choose cheaper routes/destinations: Airfares for short flights of about an hour’s duration (give or take) are often unaffected – or less so – than other routes during holiday periods. The San Francisco-Los Angeles route is one example and Dallas-Houston is another. See if a short, hub-to-hub trip fulfills your holiday wanderlust.

Other Ways to Save

Connecting flights: These often cost less than non-stops (up to 60% cheaper) and if you can endure the inconvenience, you’ll probably save.

Fly and drive: Bigger airports usually mean cheaper prices; check the fare difference between your hometown airport and the nearest largest hub and see if a longer drive is worth it.

Be certain of your plans: The major airlines, American, Delta, United and US Airways have all raised their change fees for domestic flights to $200. There’s little you can do about a last-minute emergency (beyond throwing yourself on the mercy of the airline, and don’t expect much) but if you are otherwise at all uncertain of your travel plans it might be worth it to buy the higher-priced refundable fare or invest in travel insurance.

Avoid unnecessary fees: It’s a weekend trip, not a three-month sabbatical; use a carry-on and save the checked-bag fee (or fly JetBlue or Southwest for the free bags).

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Published: May 2, 2013