Trying to find the best airfare deal takes a little bit of work but it is a heck of a lot easier than it use to be. There are a plethora of airfare search engines out there but which ones should you use? To get the best fare you are going to have to put in a little bit of legwork investigating but the payoff can bring you savings of hundreds of dollars.
When I am searching for the best fare I will search on 7 sites. The sites are Skyscanner, Kayak, Jet Radar, Google Flights, Hipmunk, Airfare Watchdog and Hopper. Skyscanner is my 1st go to site. It probably has more flight info than the other sites and should be used to benchmark your price when making your comparisons. Kayak and Hipmunk always seem to have the exact prices but that is not always the case so it's good to search with them to see what you get. Google flights is connected to a huge database and the flight prices seem to be very competitive. Likewise Airfare Watchdog has very competitive prices. I find that I usually get my best deals on Jet Radar. Hopper is a great mobile app that I go to regularly and it is very easy to use. When you go to these sites always sign up for updates to your email account.
There are misconceptions about when to purchase your ticket and how you go about searching for your flight. It was believed that Tuesday was the best day to buy your ticket. This is not the case. Airline ticket prices actually change several times each day. The reservations systems run algorithms that are constantly updating ticket prices to conform to set parameters, therefore it doesn't matter what day you make your purchase you just have to keep checking. Does checking the same flight over and over change the price? Yes, as reservations software will calculate the popularity or assumed popularity of that flight. What I do when I start my search is to go with the dates that are a day or two different from what I want to confirm, then when prices start to get close to what I am looking for I will search the exact day and make comparisons. Some believe that cookies are read from your computer and changes are made accordingly. There are those that believe that you should make your searches in incognito mode. I'm no computer guru so I can't really make an educated comment on that but searching incognito won't hurt anything.
Now the strategy to save some money:
First, set a price point. This is the amount that you are comfortable paying for your flight. If the price ever falls below that point it is probably time to go ahead and make your purchase. Waiting for the absolute lowest price is sort of like playing the stock market, you buy your ticket and the price goes down or you wait and the price goes up. So, once that price hits the appropriate target, go ahead and pull the trigger.
Second, start your search about 6 months out if possible. Every airline is different but their schedules are current for at least 6 months. The optimum time to get your best deal tends to be 8 to 10 weeks out. The prices are the highest if you are less than 2 weeks from your departure. If you are flexible with your dates, you will get better savings.
Third, go to the "Budget" airlines actual website. The following airlines are called budget airlines because their fares are usually cheaper. Also, to keep costs down they do not have their fares posted in all of the search engines. The U.S. carriers that are considered budget are: Southwest (which I retired from), Spirit, Allegiant, Sun Country and Frontier. They offer a variety of services and price structures so be aware when perusing their websites.
Fourth, your options. Here is something to consider if you are going to have to make a transfer to get to your destination. It may be cheaper to book point to point on the same airline or even use 2 different airlines. Check the price from your origin city to the transfer city and then the price from the transfer city to the destination city. Three things to consider when doing this is 1 transfer time 2 terminal change and 3 you will have to claim you luggage and recheck it back in. But, if you have the time and the price is right you might want to give it a try. If you are relatively close to another airport check the prices out of that airport also, as prices can be a very disproportionate between the two origin cities. As an example a flight from Austin to Cozumel via Houston Intercontinental was approximately $700. A flight out of San Antonio (an hour away) connecting to the exact same flight in Houston was approximately $300.
Another thing to be mindful of when booking flights is connecting time. When you are doing your search many times the lowest price that comes up has an overnight stay. Be very diligent checking to see that you are arriving the same day that you are leaving. There is usually a posted connect time and a posted total trip time in the flight selection box. If you will be arriving the next day there is a little plus 1 next to the arrival time. Also, make sure that you have enough time between flights to make your connection. Some airlines schedule some pretty tight connects. Origin city delays, enroute delays and arrival gate congestion delays all come into play here. Then once you arrive at your gate and you deplane (which can take some time) you may have to walk a considerable distance or have to switch terminals. Tight connects for you also mean a tight connection for your checked luggage. If you have a terminal change the baggage handlers may not have enough time to transfer your luggage. I prefer a minimum of at least 1 hour connecting time between flights.
Fifth, purchasing your ticket. Finally, you are ready to buy your ticket. This could be the most frustrating part. The price that you found is probably not going to be the price that you pay. Again, each airline is different but there are always fees and taxes. Sometimes they are included in the shown price but usually they are not. The predominant fees are checked bag fees. There can also be carry-on luggage fees as well as seat assignment fees. The seat assignment fees are deceptive and irritate me the most. They can add up to an additional $40 in coach. If you are travelling with somebody else sometimes you can choose 2 seats together at no extra cost but as flights book up the free option goes away. The airlines (Southwest airlines excluded because they don't assign seats) make seat selection appear as though you "must pick and pay" for a seat during the reservation process. This is not the case. When you check in at the airport a seat will be assigned to you free of charge, you just usually don't get to choose where that seat is.
Now the tedious part of this process is that you are going to have to go to each website that you searched and get all the way to the final price or buy button. Then you can compare the prices. Yes it is time consuming but this procedure will help you get the best available price for your flight.