how to save on your next flight

How To REALLY Save On Airline Travel

Buy your plane ticket on a Tuesday six weeks in advance. Or is it four?

Always book your ticket on the airline’s website. Or is Travelocity and Orbitz cheaper?

When it comes to flying, the money-saving advice is literally all over the map — and calendar. Here’s the actual research on how you can save money…

1. When to book your flight

The cheapest time to buy your domestic ticket is eight weeks in advance of your flight.

So says a new study by Airlines Reporting Corporation, a software and data analytics group for the travel industry. ARC analyzed ticket prices from January 2013 through July 2014 and found…

  • Those who bought tickets for U.S. travel paid 19 percent less than the national average of $496. That’s about $100 saved.
  • For international flights, the magic number is 24 weeks out. Savings were even higher: 27 percent (or about $374)  compared to the average international ticket price of $1,386.

What day and time to book? ARC says Sundays are the best.

That contradicts some other advice out there. For example, Lifehacker says the best time to buy your ticket is at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, but they quote a travel editor, not a researcher. We’ll stick to the numbers. Speaking of…

2. What to pay for your bags

The best time and date to book might be unpredictable, but bag fees aren’t.

Check your airline’s policy ahead of time for bag and weight limits.

Most airlines, with the exception of Frontier and Spirit (which give no free bags) allow you to have one carry-on bag for free. After that, they start charging you, so pack sparingly and tightly.

The rates start jumping after a couple checked bags. Paying $50 for two checked bags that are under the weight and length restrictions is a lot more reasonable than paying up to $100 for a third checked bag.

Southwest still doesn’t charge fees on your first two checked bags, unless you’re over the weight limit. JetBlue lets you check one bag for free, and there are certain airline miles cards that let you get free checked bags as well.

3. How to pick your seat

Certain airlines charge you to switch seats. 

Ensuring you sit next to your family members or friends on a flight will cost extra if you fly American, Delta, Frontier, United or US Airways. The fees are $25 per seat to change, and that’s just one way. Virgin costs an extra $41 to pick a seat in coach, and if you fly Spirit and don’t pay a rate of between $5 and $15 per flight, you’ll get randomly seated wherever they feel like.

4. How to book your ticket

Almost every airline now has a fee for speaking with a person. 

Airlines like US Airways list what they call a “Call center award ticketing fee,”their name for charging you to book your flight with human help. Book your flight online to avoid paying this fee, which can be anywhere from $15 to $35.

5. Changing your flight on the same day

Changing your mind costs more than it used to.

It used to be that travelers who wanted to show up a little early or a little late to the airport could get booked on another flight to the same destination for free.

Now, most airlines charge a fee of at least $50 to change your flight on the same day, and some, like United Airlines, charge up to $75. That’s not the only penalty for changing your mind…

6. Putting your frequent flyer miles back on

It’ll cost you extra to get those miles put back on your card.  

If you purchased a plane ticket using frequent flyer miles, then got sick or your changed plans and had to cancel the ticket, there’s a fee for that. But, if you want to redeem all those frequent flyer points you used to buy the ticket, there’s a fee for that too — airlines now charge anywhere from $50 to $150 to get your points put back on your card. So spend points decisively.

Getting into more detail

If you’re serious about avoiding airline fees, you should also check out SmarterTravel’s Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees for a nifty breakdown of what most major airlines charge for.

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