7 Ways to Screw Up Summer Vacation Flights

There are many ways to screw up a summer vacation – such as a family of 12 staying at Aunt Maude's one-bedroom apartment – but for this list we'll stick to finding cheap flights and having a better travel experience. Don't make these mistakes.

Listen as Rick Seaney spills his secrets to Editor Anne McDermott: how he gets by with just a single carry-on:

7 Ways to Screw Up Summer Air Travel

1. Shop on the wrong day

Longtime FareCompare readers know this popular tip because it works: Shop for domestic airfare on Tuesdays at about 3 p.m. eastern time. That way, you'll have the most sale prices to choose from. Avoid shopping on weekend when fares typically rise in price.

Best Day to Shop for Airfare – Plus More Tips that Really Work

2. Buy too late

Normally, you have an airfare shopping window of about three months before departure to about two weeks before take-off to buy your tickets, but not this summer. I am advising potential travelers to buy early in this window because the best prices will go quickly. Warning: don't shop too early – before about three-and-a-half-months before departure or you'll also pay too much.

3. Ignore cheap destinations

If money is no object, by all means visit London or Hawaii or anywhere you please and I'll be the first to say have a wonderful time. But if you're on a budget, look at cheaper destinations (nothing will be an absolute steal this summer). We're seeing reasonable prices to the following U.S. cities right now:

4. Fly to the wrong airport

Always compare prices to the closest airport to your destination, and, to the nearest bigger airport. Generally, bigger airports – especially hubs – have better prices. This is not always true, though which is why comparisons are crucial.

Example of an exception to the bigger is better rule: huge Los Angeles International Airport often has cheaper flights but on some routes, its smaller neighbors (including Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario and Orange County) will beat LAX prices.

Fee Chart: U.S. and Worldwide Airlines

5. Forget to add in all the fees

Both Allegiant and Spirit now charge a fee for a carry-on bag. Other U.S. airlines do not, but most will charge $50 roundtrip for a single checked bag. For free checked-bags, fly JetBlue or Southwest.

6. Ignore TSA banned list

Chances are you will need sunblock this summer. But if it's in a tube holding more than 3.4 ounces, it must go in checked-luggage. If it's in your carry-on, security will toss it. Remember, you can only carry aboard a plane small liquids, gels or lotions (3.4 ounces or less per container) which must be placed in a single quart-size Ziploc-type bag, which must be pulled from your carry-on at the security checkpoint. Pack it last so you can pull it out quickly in the TSA line. Your iPad can stay in its case – usually.

7. Fail to prepare for delays

On April 3, the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport was hit with bad storms, including lots of hail which damaged some aircraft. Big deal, you say? American Airlines was still canceling flights as a result of that storm three days later.

5 Surprising Things about Bad Weather and Flying

Summer weather can be worse than winter weather for delays and canceled flights so be prepared, especially if traveling with the family. Be sure you have something to occupy the kids plus a supply of snacks and charge up those electronic devices – and bring the chargers. [Editor's note: Might want to bring an actual book or two – I've never had one die on me yet for lack of an outlet.]

Rick Seaney
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