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Summer Vacation Flight Guide

Published by Rick Seaney on April 25, 2013

Most airlines are just beginning to stick their toes into the summer travel season, as seen in the latest airfare sales which now cover dates extending into late June. Let us show you where the deals are – and what you should pay.

Listen as air travel expert Rick Seaney offers more tips and tricks for a money-saving summer:

Find a cheap flight – anywhere

What Travelers Should Know

But first things first. As I always say, an informed airfare shopped is a savvy shopper – the one who always finds the cheapest flights. So here are a few helpful things to know, like the four major drivers of airfare prices:

Competition. Lack of competition generally means high airfares, and travelers are exposed to this at smaller airports and in the wake of mergers (but it's too soon for the effects of the American-US Airways marriage to be felt).

Fuel prices. Higher prices generally mean more expensive airline tickets but while oil prices are not cheap they have been relatively stable over the past several weeks and even dropping a bit recently.

Capacity. Airlines have been cutting, not adding seats over the past few years.

Demand. Right now, demand is pretty good and the pace of airfare hikes so far this year is similar to what we saw last year. And while demand could rise as much as 2% (at most) for summer, for now it is relatively flat which can mean airfare prices won't go crazy for summer.

Find a cheap flight to Europe 

When to Fly for Cheapest Flights

There are three sure-fire ways to save money on summer vacation flights:

  • Fly early in the season – before July
  • Fly late in the season – around the last week in August
  • Fly on the less popular days to travel – Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday

But what if you can't do this – are you completely out of luck when it comes to summer vacation flights? No. We have prices and destinations to aim for and tips to make flights cheaper than you may have thought possible.

Cheapest Destinations

Cheaper destinations within the U.S. for summer include some of the same cheap cities we've seen for the past few years. In some cases, though, airfare prices can vary a lot depending on your departure city.

Click the destination name to find the best deal from your location:

Cheaper U.S. destinations:Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, San Antonio.

Note that Baltimore can be a geographically close yet cheap alternative to Washington, D.C. while Boston is a good springboard for all of New England.

Cheaper international destinations:Barcelona, Dublin, Frankfurt, Madrid, Zurich, and Caribbean destinations like Nassau and San Juan.

Even if the European cities above do not include your final destination, you can often save money by using one of the cheaper cities as a launch pad to travel elsewhere on one of Europe's many discount carriers.

Airfare Prices to Aim For: U.S. Domestic

These are what I call "aggressive price points" for peak summer travel, something to shoot for. If you can get close to these, you'll be saving money.

  • Flights lasting less than an hour or in some cases, a little longer: About $150 round-trip (don't pay more than $200)
  • Flights lasting 1 to 3 hours: About $250 round-trip
  • Coast-to-coast flights: About $375 round-trip (try to stay under $400)

Again, prices can vary greatly depending on your cities.

Airfare Prices to Aim For: International

These are the prices to shoot for in the heart of the summer.

  • East Coast flights to Europe: About $1,000 round-trip
  • Chicago to Europe: About $1,150 round-trip
  • West Coast to Europe: About $1,350 round-trip

Can't quite find these prices? Don't kick yourself – take a look at the next few tips.

How to Make Fares Cheaper

Fly early summer/late summer: As noted above, early and late in the season is cheaper than July. For flights to Europe, the cheapest fares disappear from mid- to late-May.

Fly less popular days and times: Fly Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays in the U.S. and Europe flights are generally cheaper on Mondays through Wednesdays (and sometime Sundays are included). In the U.S. overnight flights are cheapest; other less expensive times of day to fly are mid-morning, lunchtime and the dinner hour.

Fly connecting routes: In the U.S. and for Europe, skipping the more convenient non-stop in favor of adding a stop or two can reap big savings.

Fly hub to hub: Bigger airports have more competition and that usually means lower airfare prices.

Avoid bag fees: Carry-ons may not be as convenient but they will almost always save you money.


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