7 Things You Can Do to Save on Summer Vacation Flights

If you’ve already taken a look at summer airfares, you know deals are far and few between, but there are some (and you’ll find them on our Deals Blog).

Can’t find a deal that’s right for you? Check out these ways to save money – they really work.

Summer Vacation Travel Guide 2013

1.  Follow the ABC’s of Airfare Shopping:

Aim for flexibility: Be flexible enough to explore alternative days off so you take advantage of the cheapest days to fly which are typically Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Buy tickets on Tuesdays: For domestic U.S. airline tickets, Tuesday at 3 p.m. EST is almost always the cheapest day and time to find the best airfares.

Compare prices every time you shop: Perusing one airline’s website these days is not going to cut it. Sure, sometimes your favorite carrier will have the cheapest flight, but not always. Go to an airfare comparison shopping site (like this one).

Are you a beginner? Relax and see our simple tips for the cheapest flights

2. Fly early, Fly Late

The best deals are found during periods when fewer people want to fly and here’s how it breaks down for summer:

  • Fly until late May and sometimes through early to late June
  • Fly starting in the mid-August or the last week of August (or beyond)

Usually prices to Europe take a steep jump at the end of May while domestic prices begin to soar in early to mid-June. Both come down significantly starting the middle or last week in August. This is truly a case of “good things come to he who waits.”

3. Increase Your Flexibility

You already know the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays but there are cheaper times of day to fly as well. This can vary somewhat (again, a comparison shopping site makes cheaper times easier to find), but what follows is a good rule of thumb:

  • Fly overnights or red-eyes
  • Fly at dawn
  • Fly in the late evening (and often during the dinner hour)

Notice that these are less popular times to fly, so airlines drop prices to fill up their empty seats.

Another money-saving option is to take a mini-break (or even a whole series of them). Many airlines offer weekend specials but you must be flexible enough to travel the same week they’re advertised – and these last-minute sales can also be found on the Deals Blog.

4. Target Cheaper Destinations

Cheaper domestic cities: Orlando, Denver, Boston, the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, Ft. Lauderdale (but compare flight prices to nearby Miami, too), Austin and San Antonio.

Cheaper international cities: Dublin or Shannon, Barcelona or Madrid, plus Frankfurt and Zurich. In the Caribbean try Nassau and San Juan.

5. Save with Stops

If you’re willing to forego the convenience of a non-stop flight, you might save as much as 60% (this can vary a lot depending on arrival/departure cities and other factors). Another good rule of thumb: if it’s inconvenient, it’s cheaper.

6. Book One-Passenger-at-a-Time

I’ve discussed this trick before, and while it can’t always work, when it does it’s a winner. Say you’re shopping for a family of five. When asked to put in the “number of passengers” put “1” instead of “5.” Continue checking the prices; if at some point as you book one passenger at a time, the price suddenly jumps, bingo! You’ve just saved some money.

Blame it on a quirk of airline reservation systems that does not allow different prices in a single reservation. If there are one or two tickets at $100, and the next highest price is $200 – and you’re booking a family of five on the same reservation – you’ll pay $200 for all five tickets. Unless you book one-by-one.

7. Avoid Costly Fees

Unless you’re flying JetBlue or Southwest, a single checked bag will usually add $50 to the cost of a single round-trip ticket and who needs that? Use a carry-on. You’ll be surprised how far (and how long) one can take you. Bonus: no worries about lost luggage.

Smaller fees add up too. If a family of five each gets the $7 sandwich on the plane, both coming and going, that’s another $70 right there. Bring a lunch from home.

More from Rick Seaney:

7 Ways to Save on Summer Airfare

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Published: May 1, 2013