Cheap Flights for Summer Vacation Travel: Shopping Tip List

Summer vacation time is almost here. Are you ready? These four tips can help you find cheap flights and more.

Summer Travel Forecast – 2012

1. Airport Size Does Matter

Some people mistakenly believe that the farther you fly, the more expensive it gets. But cost has more to do with supply-and-demand, and generally bigger, busier hub airports will have cheaper prices. A quick example (and these fares – for flights in mid-June – were good as of 3-5-12):

  • SO-SO PRICE: Los Angeles to Jackson, Wyoming: about $512 round-trip
  • OKAY PRICE: Los Angeles – Boston: about $335 round-trip
  • GOOD PRICE: Los Angeles – New York: about $299 round-trip

Note: the bigger/cheaper rule isn’t always true because sometimes airlines put less popular routes to smaller cities on sale to fill up their empty seats, which is why you must check out current airfare deals. Generally speaking, however, the bigger the airport, the cheaper the flight.

Deals Blog: Airline Sales to Destinations Big and Small

2. Don’t Buy Plane Tickets Too Early – or Too Late

You can buy too early and too late. For U.S. domestic flights, here are the rules:

  • Begin shopping 3 ½ to 3 months before departure
  • Complete shopping 3 weeks before departure (and low-cost carriers often give you until 7 days before departure)
  • Be sure and sign up for airfare alerts; if there is an unusual sale or price drop, you’ll be notified immediately

Note: If you see a good price, do not wait until the end of the shopping window, because only a few cheap seats are available on any flight and they will go fast.

Top Tips: Best Day to Shop for Airfare, and More

[See more tips, just below the search box]

3. Low-Cost Airlines May Not be Cheapest

The Internet has changed how people shop, and to an extent, how airlines price fares. The name of the game for a carrier is to wind up on page one of an airfare search site’s results page. Therefore, competitive pricing prevails.

Bottom line: You absolutely must compare prices to get the best deal.

Four Ways to Find Cheap Flights to Europe

4. Shop for Airfare on Tuesday Afternoons

The best day to shop is Tuesday and the best time to shop on Tuesday is about 3pm eastern. That’s when you find the most airline sales to choose from, and this ‘window of shopping opportunity’ is usually good through Thursday.

However, the quicker you buy – especially on popular routes – the better your chance of scoring a deal. The reason: airfare sales never include all the seats on a plane – only about 10% of them – and when sale fares are sold out, the sale is over.

More from Rick Seaney:

4 Summer Travel Savings Myths Busted


Published: March 30, 2012