by Rick Seaney
A dose of reality: summer flights are usually anything but bargains. Along with Thanksgiving and Christmas, summer is the most expensive time to fly, with fares peaking around the Fourth of July. But there are still ways to save, even save big.
1.) Get an electronic assistant. Many airfare search sites, including my own, allow you to sign up for airfare alerts. This means the deals come to you with little if any effort on your part.
What you can do: Perform a quick fare search to your vacation destination to see initial prices, so you’ll recognize an exceptional deal when you see one. If you are alerted to a price you like, jump on it fast. The cheapest seats are always limited.
2.) Fly early, fly late. Flights from early to mid-June and from mid- to late August can be significantly cheaper than the rest of the season. When kids are out of school – the peak of the season – prices rise.
What you can do: If you don’t have children or your kids are too young for school, take advantage of the cheaper times to fly. If that’s not possible, keep reading.
3.) Fly the cheapest days. The cheapest days to fly year-round are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Most of us prefer an itinerary with a Friday departure and Sunday return, but that plays right into the airlines’ hands; they know we want to fly then, so they charge the most for these tickets. Simple supply and demand.
What you can do: Fly the cheapest days coming and going. Not possible? Try to include one cheap day in your itinerary, and you’ll still save.
4.) Fly connecting flights. Ever heard of the convenience tax? It’s not a formal fee, but it’s real alright. It’s the higher price we often pay for convenient, non-stop travel. Sometimes these fast routes are the best deal, but more often connecting flights are cheaper, as much as 60% less.
What you can do: Compare fares for non-stops and connecting flights for price differences as well as total travel time. Only you can say if it’s worth it but often it is; plus it can give little ones a much needed break with built-in run-around time in the airport.
5.) Pack the right bag. Before you pull out that big suitcase, ask yourself if you really need all that space. It’s not just that carry-ons are free on most airlines; it’s also that a carry-on bag travels by your side, so it can’t get lost. I use mine everywhere including trips to Europe and Asia.
What you can do: Check your carrier’s website for a list of fees. Many discount carriers charge for carry-ons, and that’s true for many basic economy fares offered by the big legacy carriers, too.
6.) Sign up for faster security. Time is money, and there’s no bigger time waster than waiting in a long line at the security checkpoint. Instead, use the faster dedicated PreCheck lanes and keep your shoes on.
What you can do: Sign up for PreCheck membership. It only costs $85 for a five year membership, and kids 12-and-under get the perks under a parent’s membership for free. For international travelers, sign up for Global Entry, which includes PreCheck (though kids of all ages must pay for this membership).