Booking flights during the peak season is always a challenge. This is never truer than during the holidays when people from all over the country just fly home despite hikes in ticket prices. Expect a greater number of people squeezing for space this year compared to the last two when the recession seemed to have hit an all time low. This year, people just can’t wait to go home and spend thanksgiving with their families.
While we certainly can’t promise to make booking a piece of cake for you (that’s too tall an order) below are tips which could make things a tad easier.
Include Extra Fees in your Computation
You might be surprised with the “hidden fees” you’ll encounter in the airport if you take a trip this year. While most travelers are pretty used to additional costs padded onto their ticket fares, this year’s extra fees are a bit more pronounced. Paying fees for checked bags are no longer new, but you’ll be surprised with some of the most controversial headliners this year.
The grapevines have it that Spirit Airlines is also charging for carry-ons, so unless you don’t have to bring clothes to your destination, you’re going to have to shell out a little extra for that trip. The fee isn’t minimal, to say the least. Some travelers have reported paying up to $45 just to keep their bags.
If you’re flying with American Airlines and you wish to be seated in the first rows of the airbus, prepare to pay for an “express seats” fee as well. These fees can cost anything between $19 and $39. Continental’s domestic flights are also charging for their in-flight meals, now, so say goodbye to “free” servings of dinner or lunch while you’re on your flight.
A lot of fees have been padded on to airplane seats this year, so make sure that you have everything explained to you by your travel agent. Don’t be afraid to shop around for other airlines. They might also have surprise fees under their sleeves, but if you have a choice, you can always choose the lesser evil.
Don’t Count on Last Minute Rewards
The old rule applies this year: the closer you are to the holidays, the least likely you’ll be able to find a good deal for your plane tickets. Back in 2008, those who booked their plane tickets at the last minute got the surprise of their lives when they were rewarded with discounts by major airlines. That’s only because there was a lower demand for plane tickets two years ago, due to the recession. Airlines were trying to attract passengers again.
This year, though, with the fog of the recession lifting, airlines are expecting more passengers especially during the holidays. If you’re planning to go home for Christmas, an early booking could save you a lot of money. Once the holiday nears and you have more competition, airlines might feel it safe to raise their seat rates.
Fly on Off-Peak Days
Flying on less popular travel dates will always give you cheaper plane seats. Remember, you’re playing with the tricky rules of supply and demand here. This holiday season, the dates to avoid are the Monday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, as well as the Wednesday before it. Dec 23, Dec 26, Dec 27, Jan 2, and Jan 3 are also bound to give you very expensive plane fares.
While booking off-peak may seem inconvenient (you might have to take one or two days off work, or be a few hours too late for the holiday’s main event), you’ll save more money this way. Try to compromise and let your family know when your flight is due. I’m sure they can wait a few hours for you.
Consider Hotel Packages
Unless you’re planning to stay with a very generous relative, booking that plane ticket packaged with hotel accommodations can help you save a lot of money. While holiday plane fares are generally expensive, business hotels are giving out very low rates during this season because they’re having difficulty filling up their rooms.
If you’re going to Atlanta for the holidays, for example, you’ll find a lot of interesting hotel and roundtrip plane fare packages during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to ask your travel agent about it. If you’re bringing a special someone home for the holidays, the privacy of a rented hotel room might be more appealing for your travel companion.
Look for an Alternative Airport
Usually, when the airport you’re landing in is close to the center, the plane fares get more expensive. To save on a few dollars, consider choosing an airport that’s just a little bit farther from your destination. Then, travel the rest of the way on land. Of course, this is an exception if the taxi and bus fares home from the alternative airport are higher than usual. We doubt that, though. Ask around and look at the price difference.
Keep a close eye on your route
Finding cheap plane fares is definitely no hard science. It’s much closer to gambling and trading on the stock exchange that it is math. There’s no easy logic to the way plane fare ticket prices rise and fall. Sometimes, you just need to monitor the plane fares a month to a few days before your flight (if you can cut it that close). The key is to look for a “trending” price.
Once you spot the average price for your route, you’ll know which travel dates to pick. Be prepared to travel on an off-peak date, though. While sometimes travelers can chance on upon cheap plane tickets during peak dates, this is a very rare occurrence.
Consider all options
When shopping for a cheap plane ticket online, you should look at as many websites as you can. Pick ones that you can trust, though, and download an online tool which would help you monitor several plane fares for the same date from different airlines. Travel websites usually have this feature. If you’re looking for cheap plane tickets to and from home, you might as well educate yourself and do most of the hunting.
When plane fares are up, and there seems to be no going around the expenses, consider other travel options. Are you crossing landlocked areas? If you don’t have to cross the sea, anyway, there might not be much of a need for plan trips. Try traveling by land, instead.
Look for the most convenient and most cost-efficient land travel option available. Shop around for car rentals, and bus- or train fares. The trip’s bound to be longer, but if you can’t afford plane tickets, land travel is a good alternative.