How to Blow Hundreds of Dollars on Airfare, and How to Avoid It

Sometimes wasting money is easier than being frugal. I like doing things the easy way, too, which is why I’ve devised these simple yet quick ways to put a stop to wasteful habits. My motto – and FareCompare’s – is save money and time.

LISTEN: Is it truly possible to blow hundreds? Says expert Rick Seaney, “Absolutely.”

1. Don’t blow money by flying favorite airlines only

Maybe Southwest is your favorite airline (I like them a lot), but Southwest does not always have the lowest ticket prices. This is not a knock against them because no airline always has the cheapest prices – not all the time. Here’s an airfare example found last week for a flight between Minneapolis and Los Angeles:

  • Southwest: $442
  • US Airways: $279
  • Spirit: $215*

*So is Spirit always the cheapest?  No.

The way to save: Compare ticket prices on an airfare comparison site (yes, like FareCompare), but also compare Southwest prices which can only be found on the airline’s website.

2. Don’t blow money by paying the procrastination premium

If you wait too late to buy your tickets you can easily blow hundreds of dollars. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • Purchase at least two weeks in advance on legacy carriers such as American, Delta, United
  • Purchase at least one week in advance on discounters like JetBlue, Frontier, Virgin America

The way to save:You can save even more (usually) by purchasing tickets at least 30 days in advance, but don’t shop too early, either. You usually pay a higher price on tickets purchased earlier than three months in advance of a trip (except at Thanksgiving, where it’s never too early to shop).

3. Don’t blow money by flying non-stops only

Depending on the route, you pay as much as 50 percent more for a non-stop flight compared to a connecting flight with a stop (or two).

The way to save: Again, do an airfare comparison search and look at the price of non-stops vs. connecting flights. A little inconvenience could mean a lot more money to spend on fun stuff.

4. Don’t blow money by flying one airport only

You’re in Southern California and you live in (or near) Burbank. The airport there has plenty of service so that’s where you fly. But if you’re willing to drive less than 30 miles to the south, you could save plenty as this flight to Cincinnati illustrates:

  • Burbank Airport to Cincinnati: $615
  • Los Angeles International to Cincinnati: $409

The way to save: Compare the price of a ticket from your home airport with the price from the nearest hub. Then ask yourself if the longer drive is worth it. It just might be.

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Updated: November 7, 2014