Flyer's Guide: Best Air Travel Tips

This site is often called on to provide guidance to flyers who find themselves in all sorts of dilemmas. We decided to cull our best advice and put it in one place to benefit airfare shoppers, veteran travelers and infrequent flyers. Feel free to add your question to the mix.

Shop Tuesday

Shopping on Tuesday is the single most important thing you can do to win the airfare game. Here’s why:

Typically airlines launch airfare sales on Monday night – and by Tuesday, rival airlines match the sale prices to stay competitive. These lower prices usually hit airline reservation systems by 3 p.m. eastern time. Shop then and you get more cheap flights to choose from.

Smart tip: Always use a comparison shopping site to be sure you get the best deal.

Be Flexible on Travel Dates

Know when to fly. Airfare sales often require travelers to fly on Tuesday or Wednesday because those are the days airlines have trouble filling seats – and these are usually the cheapest days to fly. Even if you can only fly one midweek day, you will still see some savings.

Smart tip: Avoid the most expensive days to fly – Friday and Sunday.

Be Flexible on Airports

Know where to fly. Flying out of Cincinnati? It might – might – be cheaper to fly out of Dayton. Californians living near Burbank’s airport have a similar decision to make about LAX. This is why you must compare prices not just with airlines but with nearby airports.

Smart tip: Usually, the bigger the airport, the cheaper the flight.

Amazing Hidden Treasure in Airports

Get to the Airport Early

Here are three good reasons not to dash to the airport at the last minute.

Planes can leave early. This happens more often than you might think with planes leaving as much as 15 minutes ahead of schedule. This helps airlines meet those all-important on-time departure and arrival goals (such statistics are collected by the Department of Transportation).

Security lanes can be slow. This is no surprise to veteran travelers and at airports where there are no ‘fast lanes’ for frequent flyers, bottlenecks can occur in the blink of an eye.

Tight connections. This is a tip to use when planning your trip. Think a two-hour layover at JFK is enough time to make a flight to London? It won’t be if there’s a mechanical problem or bad weather on the first leg of the trip. Build in plenty of time for a worst-case scenario.

Smart tip: Pack a book, pack a Kindle, pack a game – and make sure batteries are fully charged in case you have to sit around. And know the basic TSA security rules before you head to the airport.

28 More Airports Get Faster Security Lanes

Confirm Travel Arrangements

Not always necessary, but why take a chance.

Before your trip. Flyers are sometimes surprised to find out their route has been canceled particularly if tickets were purchased months ahead of departure. Stay on top of the news, and stay in contact with your carrier.

At the airport. If passengers are told there is a problem with the flight and there will be an hour’s delay before departure, do not wander too far. If the problem gets resolved ahead of schedule and you are not in the gate area in time, the plane will take off without you.

Smart tip: Don’t eat in the airport restaurant – bring a snack back to the gate so important announcements will not be missed.

Use Social Media

No need to tweet personal information – just follow favorite shopping sites and airlines. There are two big benefits:

New about deals. Some airfare sales, contests and miles bonuses are directed exclusively to social media followers.

Problem solving. Many airlines monitor social media closely and respond to complaints of Twitter followers quickly.

Smart tip: Don’t know a tweet from a twitter? Ask your teen to show you the ropes.

Know How to Handle Delays

Multi-task. When at the airport, get in line for a gate agent and at the same time, get on the phone. The sooner you connect, the sooner you’ll get on the next flight out.

Smart tip: Monitor Twitter for updates.

Fees Worth the Money

Under some circumstances, these are some of the fees that can be worth the additional expense.

Annual credit card fee: Some offer free bags for the year and others come with additional perks; only you can decide if the card fee is worth it to you.

Early boarding. For travelers worried about bin space for carryons (and who don’t want to give up extra legroom by stashing a bag under the seat in front), check airline rates for early boarding.

Smart tip: Southwest’s early boarding fee is a bargain at $10 per flight.

See the Worldwide Airline Bag Fee Chart

Fees Not Worth the Money

Bag fees. Many airlines charge a fee for a single checked-bag of $50 round-trip which adds up to $200 for a family of four. Use a carryon instead, which is free on all airlines except Spirit and Allegiant.

Smart tip: If you must check a bag, keep it within your airline’s size limitations – overweight bag fees can be extremely expensive.

Pack Light

Save on bag fees by using a carryon. Wear your bulkiest items such as sweaters, coats and heavy shoes plus ‘pack’ items in coat pockets. Remember, khakis usually pack ‘smaller’ than denim.

Smart tip: Space-consuming cosmetics and sundries can be purchased at your destination.

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Published: February 9, 2012