How to Get the Best Airfare

Airfare accounts for a big portion of your travel budget, so you want to make sure you get the best airfare value for your dollar. Airlines won't always tell you what the best airfare options are, but by asking the right questions, being flexible with your travel plans and planning ahead, you increase the chances of finding and booking the best airfare for your budget and destination.

How Airfare Rates Are Set
Airlines calculate airfare rates based on seat inventory, demand and the competition. If a particular flight route is in high demand, the price of airfare for that route will increase. Likewise, if another flight has more empty seats than full, the price of that airfare will drop.

Airlines that offer the same flight routes often have widely different airfare prices. One airline may have market share for that route and need to lower airfare to fill seats while another airline with fewer flights on that route can raise prices to meet demand.

As a result of all of these factors, airfare prices fluctuate in real time. When you're shopping around, what you see quoted one minute could change in the time takes you to get your credit card information ready. Even if you're booking airfare online, the price you see could change while you're creating your itinerary. Part of getting the best airfare is being able to act quickly.

One Day Can Make a Difference
If you have strict restrictions on the dates you can travel, you probably won't get the best airfare you could have if your travel dates were flexible. If you can keep your travel plans flexible and depart or return even one day earlier or later than your original plans, you'll increase your chances of getting a better airfare deal by staying outside peak travel times.

If you do have to travel during a peak time, that doesn't mean you'll pay through the nose to see your family at the holidays. To get the best airfare during peak travel times like Thanksgiving, Christmas and school vacation, plan and book ahead. The earlier you can book holiday travel, the better chance you have at getting a reasonable fare and a confirmed seat.

The best airfares for peak travel times are usually the day of. If you need to travel at Christmas, for example, flying on December 25th or 26th can get you the best price for the season. This is because many airlines consider the day of or day after peak travel to be a low season (the days leading up to a holiday or other peak travel time is the high season. To get the best airfare for holiday and other peak travel, ask your preferred airline which days they define to be low season.

First out, Last In
Another strategy to help you get the best airfare is being willing to fly early or late in the day. The first and last flights of the day tend to be the least popular and yield the best price as a result. If you're willing to get up early and/or get home late, booking these flight times can get you the best airfare when have other limitations, like strict travel dates.

Drive a Little, Save a Lot
If you're willing to drive a little further upon departure and/or arrival, shopping for the best airfare by airport will often get you a good deal. This strategy works best for domestic travel within the US; if you're traveling internationally, your choice of airport may be more limited. Prices are generally lower at smaller airports serviced by discount carriers.

Flights departing West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale, Florida carry lower airfares than flights departing Miami. The same holds true in other metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and Boston. If you're searching for airfares online, choose a travel booking site that allows you to research airfare at all airports within a distance from your home that you're willing to drive.

Read the Fine Print
If you're planning a long trip that reaches beyond the maximum stay of a deeply discounted ticket, you'll lose the upfront savings on the other end. The length of your trip affects the price of your airfare.

Check with the airline to see what its trip-length restrictions are (21 and 30 days are the most common). Similarly, if you jump at what looks like the best airfare and don't realize it's a weekend airfare, you'll pay considerably more for staying longer.

Be sure you understand the terms and conditions that the best airfare you find stays the best airfare for all your needs-not just your budget-before you book.

When to Book
There's no perfect time to purchase airfare, but if you find what you think is the best airfare for your trip, you'd be wise to book it as soon as possible because chances are likely it will cost more or even be gone tomorrow. Generally, the best domestic airfare prices are had with 14-day advance purchase, 30-day advanced purchased for international travel.

What Happens if Airfares Drop After You Book?
Purchasing airfare is like gambling: you watch, wait and hope that you are getting the best airfare for your money. Getting the airfare you want, when you want it and at the price you want is a win. But what happens if that airfare drops after you book?Many major domestic airlines include a guarantee in the fine print of your ticket; if you purchase your airfare and the price drops for the exact same itinerary-the dates for travel must match your original dates-the airline, upon request, will issue a price-difference voucher that can be applied to future airfare purchases with the airline. Web fare airfare prices are sometimes excluded from this offer, so be familiar with the airline's and your travel booking site's terms, conditions and restrictions.

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