The airline industry has long suffered from high fuel costs, labor struggles and, lately, mergers. This has translated into years of fare hikes and poor service for passengers, and it’s only expected to get worse.
A study from the GBTA Foundation suggests the price for flights will rise 4.6 percent domestically and 8.3 percent for international tickets this year. To offset the jump in prices, here are 10 ways to cut the cost of airfare.
1. Save when the flight is oversold
Airlines often overbook flights in the event a passenger doesn’t show up for the flight; this way flights are always flying at full capacity. But in the event everyone is at the gate and no one canceled, the airline will ask a few passengers to volunteer to fly on another flight later that day, since the original one was oversold. If no one volunteers, usually the last person to check in will be bumped to the next flight.
If you volunteer, expect to get some form of compensation — whether it’s cash or a flight voucher. Depending on what the airline offers, it may be worth hopping on the next flight; the compensation may cover the costs of the ticket price.
2. Talk to the airline
You may resort to online sites to compare prices of fares across various airlines, but don’t forget to contact the airlines directly.
“Airlines like Southwest don't allow their airfare to be posted to third-party sites, so you could overlook a better deal," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "Also, buying directly from the airline will reduce the hassle associated with dealing with a third party in cases of flight changes or cancellations.”
3. Book airfare and hotels together
Booking a flight and hotel at the same time can result in significant savings. “A Travelocity study found that you can save up to $525," says Courtney Scott, senior editor at Travelocity. "Plus, these packages are dynamic, so you can choose any flight and hotel combination. They are not pre-packaged — it just means booking at the same time.”
4. Fly out of a smaller airport
The lower-cost carriers will typically fly out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., instead of the busier hub in Miami, even though the cities are relatively close. If you’re always flying into a city’s main airport, you could find yourself paying top dollar. Other examples include flying into Burbank, Calif., instead of Los Angeles or Oakland, Calif., instead of San Francisco.
5. Choose the days you fly wisely
Airline prices fluctuate — constantly.
“It's usually cheaper to fly during the week than on the weekends," says Melisse Hinkle, travel expert and editor of Cheapflights.com. "The middle of the week is golden for travelers. Airlines and hotels know that Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday are the easiest times to travel, so prices are higher.”
6. Fly early or late in the day
The most cost-effective flights are the ones during odd hours of the day, including the first flights of the day at 6 a.m. and the red-eyes overnight.
“I recently researched a flight from Denver to Orlando, and the cost for a 8:15 a.m. departure is $298," says blogger Kendal Perez of HassleFreeSavings.com. "The 12:42 p.m. departure cost $70 more at $368. Similarly, a return flight at 8:32 p.m. from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) on JetBlue cost $129 — whereas the 11 a.m. flight cost $198.”
7. Book well in advance
While this is tough for business travelers who need to fly for an unexpected meeting, you should try to book flights several weeks in advance, when the prices are lower.
“For domestic flights, if a consumer books 12 to 35 days before departure, they can save up to 6 percent,” says Kayak.com spokeswoman Maria Katime.
8. Seek out coupon codes
When you see a space to enter a coupon code on an airline’s website, don’t skip over it — you’re missing out on savings.
“Treat this process like shopping for clothing," says Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com. "Some airline providers like JetBlue have sales. You can also find coupon codes online and earn cash back (a portion of your online purchase that is deposited into an account for you) when you buy online.”
9. Look for airport parking bargains
If you’re traveling for more than a week, paying the daily parking fee at the airport is bound to add up, especially since these parking fees cost upward of $20 per day.
A cheaper alternative is to check some of the parking lots near the airport. “These lots sometimes offer direct shuttle service to the airport with rates as low as $3.99 per day," Woroch says. "Check AirportReservationsParking.com for a list of places to park on the cheap."
10. Ask about special fares
For students and young people, it never hurts to ask the airline if there is a special discount.
“There are plenty of organizations that cater to student travelers," Hinkle adds. "Search online for student-only airfares or try last-minute standby tickets for reduced fares. There are also youth fares — discounted tickets for ages 18-22, and you don't have to be a student to use them.”