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Cheap Airfare Tickets: How to get the Best Fares When Booking Online

By Edited Jan 10, 2015 1 0
Cheap Airfare Tickets: How to get the Best Fares When Booking Online
Credit: Opensource

Over a decade ago, I worked for a travel booking company called Worldspan, which eventually merged with a competitor named Galileo to become Travelport.

Companies like Travelport were originally created by the airlines themselves to defray some of the costs associating with processing travel reservations in a mainframe system.

Worldspan was formed in the early 1990s by TWA, Northwest Airlines and Delta to collect and manage their passenger data. These old systems were based on IBM mainframes and at the time, most booking engines behind the car rental, hotel booking and air fare reservations went through one of these mainframe system provided by Worldspan or Sabre, which was the company created by American Airlines to process their data.

During my time in the travel industry as a Systems Analyst, I had the opportunity to work on several web based booking platforms and from that experience gained not only a lot of technical knowledge, but also some practical knowledge in how the travel industry functions.

One of the most useful things I learned was how to book travel online based on the methods that airlines price fares and the best time to book on average.

Things have changed over the last decade somewhat as more and more booking engines have emerged. It’s not simply a matter of booking many months in advance or what time of the day or year you plan on flying. You have to be a savvier shopper now.

Here are four strategies you can use to save money when booking reservations online.

Search for Single Seats at a Time

If you have a family and are planning a vacation, you would be wise to book several months in

Cheap Airfare Tickets: How to get the Best Fares When Booking Online

But more importantly, if you want to get the best price possible, try searching for single seats rather than for a family of four seats on one flight.


Most booking platforms are going to show you the lowest fare available based on the size of your party. That can mean a difference of $20 or more per seat.

For example, say you search for four seats for your party on a certain date and there are four seats that are priced differently. The system will show you the price of four empty seats based on the highest priced seat in your search. So behind the scenes, if the system find four seats priced at $200, $200, $210 and $220, you are going to get a search result that shows you four seats for that flight will cost you $200.

Pretty dirty right?

Well, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking the airlines are on your side. It is rare that any two seats on an airplane cost the same amount of money. You could have paid $200 on any given flight while the person next to you paid $300 for whatever reason.

So what can you do to avoid this scenario?

If you are in this situation, begin by searching for flights on the dates and destinations for one person. Make a note of that result, then try the same search for two people. It may or may not change. Add another person to the search. Again, it may not change, but if it does, you will realize that is the threshold you do not want to cross if you want a cheaper fare.

If the threshold is two before the price goes up, book for two, then book again for 2 in a separate transaction. If you have planned ahead far enough in advance, it should be no problem to find 4 seats in the same area of the plane.

Search for Online Coupon Codes for Travel Bookings

Cheap Airfare Tickets: How to get the Best Fares When Booking Online
Credit: Ebates.com

Before you go to a specified website to look for airfare, go to a site like Ebates that will give you a 5% rebate just for going to their site first, then linking off to a site like Expedia.

You can also follow all of the major airlines on Twitter because they occasionally offer promotional coupon codes via tweets.

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Search Frequently and Time Your Booking

Booking Airfare Online
Credit: mjpyro

If you are planning on booking airfare to a destination, start searching for fares at least two months before the preferred date of departure and make a note of how they change over the course of a few weeks so you can get an average.[1]

According to the website Cheapair, their studies have shown that the best time to book a fare is about 49 days in advance. [1]

But as with any study based on airfare, it all depends on where and when you are going. Needless to say, none of this advice applies if you are trying to travel during the busy periods like Thanksgiving.

However, definitely avoid two particular scenarios: Booking too far in advance and booking within two weeks of your travel dates. In both instances, for whatever reason, you will typically pay more for tickets.

Furthermore, there are certain times in the week that are better for finding deals than other. Traditionally, airlines loaded their new fare promotions on Tuesday so that tended to be the best time to get a good rate.

However, as the industry as consolidated, those fares are sometimes loaded late on Mondays.  So the best strategy is to start checking fares late at night on Monday and into Tuesday. If the fare is really good, other airlines will adjust their fares throughout the day on Tuesday to match the lower fares.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally when you can find the cheapest flights. Friday and Saturday are usually the most expensive.

While this back and forth on prices occurs throughout the week, the price matching is more frequent on Tuesdays because of the new fare promotions.

The More Flexible Your Dates and Time of Departure, the Better

If you have ever flown standy-by on a buddy pass, you know you have to be flexible. You cannot say I am leaving on this day at this time and returning at this time because you never know if you are going to get on the airplane. So a Friday afternoon flight out to NYC and return back on Sunday night to be at work Monday morning is usually out of the question on a buddy pass.

If you take this mindset into booking paid travel reservations, you can get better deals Obviously you have to take vacation plans and time off of work into consideration, and if a family is involved, it gets a lot more complicated.

But if you are looking for a weekend getaway, searching for destinations leaving from your home airport can get you a nice weekend vacation with hotel included. Sites like LastMinuteTravel cater to this type of traveler with last minute deals which include huge discounts off hotel rooms.

Other sites like Adioso give airfare deals out of your home airport for a specified time frame.

Final Thoughts

Cheap Airfare Tickets: How to get the Best Fares When Booking Online

The trick to getting a good deal on airfare is patience and persistence. It can be a maddening experience and even though you do everything you can possibly do, just understand that there is more than likely someone on that airplane that paid much less that you did for the same flight.

We used to laugh at the antiquated pricing system that the airlines use where there is no rhyme or reason. That is not likely to change anytime soon, but these tips should help you survive the experience so you can relax on your vacation.


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  1. "When should you buy your airline ticket? Here’s what our data has to say." Cheapair. 9/05/2014 <Web >

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