Summer Vacation Guide to Cheaper Flights – 2014

I’ll be blunt: Summer airfare prices are going to be a little painful – they always are – but especially in 2014 since airlines had little success raising leisure fares earlier this year. Note: Don’t miss the video below.

NEW: Overall, summer airfare for 2014 is up only about 2 percent from last year. However, there’s a bigger gap when it comes to ‘convenient’ flights (such as non-stops), which have risen about 15 percent since the summer of 2013.

LISTEN: Rick Seaney says, “Don’t pay a penny more for summer flights than you have to.”

Read Summer Vacation Guide to Cheaper Flights – 2014 podcast transcript.

Summer Outlook

Airlines view summer as one long holiday period. They know kids are out of school and people want to fly and price their fares accordingly. Airlines charge what they think we’ll pay.

  • Summer domestic travel: Fares are running about 10-20 percent higher than spring and late summer.
  • Summer Europe travel: Fares from New York to London, Paris or Rome will range from $1150-$1400 round-trip (or more), higher from the Midwest and West Coast (and tack on an additional $200 for convenient non-stops).

Bottom line: Airlines know we want to travel for summer vacation and are generally willing to pay whatever. Let’s turn that “whatever” into the cheapest price possible.

When to Shop for Cheaper Airfare

Shop now. Some of the usual guidelines go out the window when it comes to a peak travel season like summer. So you can shop a little earlier than we usually recommend (3 months before departure) but do not wait to purchase tickets until the last minute.

  • Domestic shopping window: Start shopping for airline tickets now, even if your vacation isn’t until August. Finish shopping a month before departure, or 3 weeks before at the very latest.
  • International shopping window: Shop now and purchase tickets at least 6 weeks in advance.

Cheapest Weeks of Summer to Fly

If you can fly during these periods, you can save 10 to 20 percent over peak-summer domestic fares.

  • Travel before: June 8
  • Travel after: August 25

Note: The above dates are true for many airlines but others vary by a day or so. Find the best deals by comparing prices on different dates.

Cheaper Destinations

If you are determined to vacation in Paris or a small U.S. city – go and have a great time. If your plans are up in the air, fares to these cities are good values.

Click the city name to find deals from your town.

Seattle:  This great outdoors venue with its excellent coffeehouses is becoming a super hot destination thanks to increased airline competition. Recently, Alaska and Frontier added more Seattle flights, and sales to this city have become a fixture on our Deals Blog.

Denver: A regular on those cheapest city lists, Denver is not just for skiing. Try your hand at hiking, fishing, horseback riding or golfing and all that fun nightlife. The cheaper airfare is icing on the cake.

Boston: Another generally cheap city thanks to its status as a focus city for JetBlue and plenty of airline competition. Great for history, architecture, excellent scenery plus it’s the gateway to all of New England.

Washington, D.C.: Both Southwest and JetBlue have added flights to the nation’s capital at convenient Washington Reagan Airport making the monuments, the Mall and the Smithsonian easier to get to. Don’t overlook flights to Dulles or nearby Baltimore either.

New York City: Something for everyone in the Big Apple along with one of the largest collections of airlines at three major airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. Compare prices to all to find the best deal.

Florida and Caribbean: When the heat is on, prices to these destinations cool off, particularly when the annual hurricane season (and ensuing jitters) kicks off June 1. Miami or Fort Lauderdale and San Juan, Puerto Rico and Nassau often have particularly good deals.

Dublin: This Irish city has long been the biggest bargain of Europe. Explore the countryside or use Dublin as a jumping-off point via cheap local carriers to other countries.

Find Cheaper Deals by Length-of-Flight

These three shopping/destination strategies can yield good deals for domestic travelers.

Short-hauls flights: If you can fly a competitive hub-to-hub route – on flights of 90 minutes or so – you’ll find relatively stable prices year-round. Examples include Miami-Tampa, Dallas-Houston, Los Angeles-San Francisco, Minneapolis-Chicago.

Long-haul flights: Fares on coast-to-coast flights have been easing particularly to/from larger cities. If you get a fare for under $400 round-trip, you got yourself a deal.

Mid-range flights: If your plans call for flights of 2 hours or more that are not cross-country routes, you could get hit with higher fares. These tips can help minimize the damage:

  • Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays: These are historically the cheapest days to fly. If you can’t fly these days in both directions, try for one and you’ll still see savings.
  • Forget airline loyalty: That big carrier you have all your frequent flyer miles on may not offer the best deal. Compare prices and you could save big.
  • Look at connecting flights: These are often cheaper than non-stops. Often, but not always. Again, compare prices – and routes.

VIDEO: Summer Travel Guide – the most important tips in a quick, minute-and-a-half.

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Published: April 7, 2014