Government's Tips to Find Cheap Flights – What it Gets Right and Wrong

You may not realize what a treasure trove of information is found in some government websites and the U.S. Department of Transportation is no exception: Its Plane Talk section includes fascinating nuggets such as how to take an airline to small claims court.

Best tips for finding cheap fares

The government site also includes tips on finding the best airfares. That’s where some surprises come in.

What’s the Difference: DOT Tips vs. FareCompare

Surprise number one: The surprise is how little difference there is between the DOT tips on finding the best prices and the tips FareCompare has been sharing for the past seven years. Here’s an example:

  • DOT says: “Compare fares of different airlines.”
  • FareCompare says: “Always compare airfare prices.”

How to use the tip to save: As long-time visitors to FareCompare know, the only way to be sure of getting the best deal possible is by comparing airfare – or as travel expert and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney puts it, “No single airline always has the best prices, so if you don’t compare, you could pay too much.” Use a comparison site and also check fares on Southwest which only makes its prices available on its own website. Here’s another example:

  • DOT says: “Be flexible in your travel plans.”
  • FareCompare says: “Be flexible on travel dates, time of flights, routes and even airports.”

How to use the tip to save: The most important part of flexibility is knowing the cheapest days to fly. FareCompare’s Seaney has done the research, poring over a mountain of fare data and had determined that the cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. See more FareCompare tips to finding the best-priced deals here.

Surprise number two: The DOT, in our view gets one tip wrong.

  • DOT says: “Plan as far ahead as you can.”
  • FareCompare says: “It’s possible to buy your tickets too early.”

How to use the tip to save: If you make your purchase too soon before a trip, you could pay too much. Wait to purchase tickets for U.S. domestic travel until about three months before departure, and wait to purchase European airfare about five months ahead.


Published: February 13, 2014