Shop for Tickets One at a Time to Save on Airfare

Published by Rick Seaney on August 30, 2012

UPDATED Oct. 2, 2015

If you'll fly with family (or at least one other person) and need shop for two or more tickets, this tip could save you hundreds of dollars on airfare.

  • Shop for airline tickets one at a time.

Use this easy tip at FareCompare or anywhere you book a flight. It won't always save you money but you won't know until you try.

LISTENTravel expert Rick Seaney always shops this way.

Problem: Reservation System 'Quirk'

There is a quirk in airline reservation systems that requires all tickets purchased in one transaction be the same price. In other words, if you book four tickets at the same time, you'll pay the same price for all four tickets.

The problem:  There may actually be cheaper seats available! However, if there aren't enough of the lower-priced tickets for the entire party, the reservation system bumps you up to the next tier that has enough same-priced tickets. Another way of putting it is that the reservation system will not split up a group to mix ticket prices. If it's a single transaction, all will pay the same so you might miss out on savings.

Solution: Shop Tickets One at a Time

In order to find out if this is an issue with your party, simply start two separate booking transactions. Tip: I like to open two different browsers, and then do the following.

  • Open a booking for the total number of people in your party
  • Open a booking for just one person

If the result for the single ticket shows a cheaper price, you know there is at least one cheaper seat available. Simply repeat until you find out how many cheaper seats are available.

Then, split your ticket purchase. For example, if you're booking for four and there is one cheap seat and three more expensive ones, execute one booking transaction for the single ticket and a separate booking transaction for the three other tickets you need.

Tip #1: After I open my two browsers, I get both to the credit card page at the same time, then execute the bookings one after another.

Tip #2: In case of error, U.S. airlines are required to give you a 24 hour 'change-your-mind' grace period. Most offer a straight refund with the 24 hour period but American Airlines' policy allows you to hold a booking for 24 hours without paying for it (and without seeing an increase in price).

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