Finding Cheap Flights in 2011: Top Five Tips

Even after December’s airfare hikes, airfare prices are still on the rise thanks to the rising price of oil. So, brace yourself for pricier airline tickets.

But you can still find cheap flights (even insanely cheap flights) and discount airfare deals by following my top five tips (along with my personal “dos” and “don’ts”):

1. Fly Off-Season

Do: Try to fly during a dead zone. This means try to travel to destinations during off-peak seasons. For example, visit Europe in the fall when the kids are in school and the weather is perfect or even in winter. Visit the Rockies in the summer. These destinations will be just as pretty and a whole lot cheaper.

Don’t: You can sabotage your chance at cheap airfare by following the crowds to popular seasonal destinations, such as the Caribbean or ski resorts in winter, or Europe during peak tourism season in summer.

2. Don’t Wait for Last Minute Deals

Do: Purchase airfares on legacy carriers (such as United or American) at least 14 days before departure, and purchase from discounters (like AirTran and Virgin America) 7 days in advance.

Don’t: Wait until just a couple of days before departure to buy your airline tickets; otherwise, you risk paying walk-up coach class fares which can rival the steep prices for first class.

3. Use Real-Time Airfare Alerts for Discount Updates

Do: Sign up for FareCompare Airfare Alerts, plus follow deals from your home airport. For example, if you’re in the metro New York area, just follow @flyfromNYC and if you’re on the West Coast, you might follow @flyfromLAX or @flyfromSFO. Let us do the work for you.

Don’t: Avoid Twitter. It’s a great tool for receiving real-time airfare alerts and current airport and airline information. Follow your favorite airlines, FareCompare and Rick Seaney for the latest updates.

4. Be Flexible on Airports and Travel Dates

Do: Fly from the closest hub or largest airport you can stand to drive to. The savings can be worth it (as some of my friends in Wisconsin and Indiana – who make the commute to O’Hare – know oh so well).

Don’t: Fly out of the closest available airport. This may not be the cheapest option, and if your hometown airport is a small, regional facility, you could be paying a hefty commuter premium for the convenience.

5. Avoid Checked-Baggage and Baggage Fee Penalties

Do: Study the FareCompare Domestic Airline Baggage Fee Chart so you don’t get zinged at the airport for fees you didn’t know you had to pay.

Don’t: Over-pack, whether you take a carry-on or a checked-bag. I was recently penalized for having an “overweight carry-on bag” by Hawaiian Airlines because it weighed in at over 25 pounds.

More from Rick Seaney on ABC News:

Five Ways to Find Cheap Flights in 2011

Scary Airline Resolutions for 2011

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Published: January 6, 2011