How to Find Cheap Flights for College Students

The holidays are fast approaching, and while your college student might be too busy partying – errr – studying to look for cheap airfare home, now is a good time to start searching.

Give your college-aged kids a friendly reminder by sending them this list of tips and resources geared toward student travelers.

Thanksgiving Travel Guide – 5 Best Tips to Find Cheap Flights


Start Shopping Early
While you might be able to pull an all-nighter to finish that essay, it is a bad idea to procrastinate on shopping around for airfare. Airlines start raising prices for last-minute ticket buyers two weeks out from the departure date. They typically begin discounting seats three to four months before departure, so if you are hoping to make it home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, now is the time to look.

And when you are ready to make your purchase, wait until 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, when the highest number of discounted seats is available.

Thanksgiving Airfare Prices Up Sharply Over 2010


Be Flexible On The Dates And Times You Fly
Airlines know that the holidays are peak travel times and that there is not as much scheduling flexibility as other times of the year, and they will charge a premium for it. Some carriers even add surcharges for the busiest travel days – although, according to an article in the LA Times, some carriers are reducing the number of days they will charge extra.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) has the reputation of being one of the busiest travel days of the year. This means the odds of you scoring a cheap seat that day are going to be pretty slim. Same goes for that return flight on the Sunday after the holiday (Nov. 27). This year, several carriers are also adding a surcharge for Nov. 28. If you can swing it, consider catching an early flight home on Thanksgiving day (you will have the perfect excuse for getting out of that annual family football rumble) and heading back to school the following Saturday or Tuesday.

Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets for the Holidays

Around Christmas, the busiest days tend to be Dec. 23 (which is a Friday this year – another busy travel day). Airlines have already promised surcharges for this day, as well as Dec. 22, Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. You can save money by flying on the actual holiday and avoiding those rush days.

The time of day you fly can also affect how much you pay for a ticket. Choose an early morning flight or a red-eye for maximum savings.

Being as flexible as you can on departure dates gives you better chances of finding less-expensive flights. Sign up for FareCompare Airfare Price Drop Alerts so you can be notified immediately when the price drops to one of your favorite destinations.

 

Check Out Regional Airports and Discount Carriers
You can avoid crowds – and potentially higher ticket prices – by searching for flights at non-major metropolitan airports. Try looking for flights within a 90-mile radius of your destination – your little sister will probably thrilled to pick you up first thing in the morning.

Some low-cost carriers like Southwest do not post fares on travel sites, so make sure to visit their websites to check on ticket prices.

Which Offer the Cheapest Flights: Large Hub Airports or Small Airports?


Don’t Forget To Check With Airlines, Universities
It is not a bad idea to check an airline website to see if there might be any special discounts – especially for students – that are not otherwise offered on major travel sites.

American Airlines offers exclusive travel discounts to students, including a 5 percent discount on land components when you book a vacation package through AAVacations. Visit airline websites (including low-cost carriers) to see if they offer youth fares or student discounts.

In addition, many schools have on-campus travel agencies that can help students track down discounts. Penn State, for instance, has a full-service travel management office serving faculty and staff. The University of Texas contracts with Travel Management Services to be a liaison between the university and contracted travel vendors; it is not a travel agency, but it does offer resources to help students and faculty manage their travel better. Visit your school’s website or student affairs office to get more information.

Cheap Student Travel Guide

Use Student Travel Sites
There are several websites offering students, faculty and youth discounts on travel. These sites often have partnerships with carriers around the world and are able to work out deals on seats. They are especially useful if you are planning to spend time abroad and need help mapping out other parts of your trip including lodging, ground transportation and excursions. StudentUniverse.com and STATravel.com are two of the biggest sites for student travelers.

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Published: October 24, 2011