Cool Ideas

Save on Airfare Costs

by Stephanie Nelson

The cost of a family vacation or business trip can add up quickly if you don't know where to find the lowest prices-particularly on the major expenses of airline tickets. However, with a little advance planning you can cut your airfare costs in half. Try these tips to get more for less on your next trip:

  • Book at least 14 days in advance to get lower rates.

  • Use a travel search engine to find the airline with the lowest fare, but then go directly to the airline with the lowest fare's website to make sure you are getting the lowest fare available. Some search engines' prices are slightly higher to cover service fees (i.e. $10 per ticket). For example, when I booked our family's airline tickets for our spring ski trip, I found that the airline that offered the lowest fare with a search engine first. Then I checked with that airline's site directly and found that the same flight's price was $10 less per ticket. Booking directly with the airline's site saved our family $40. Using the search engine made it easy to find the least expensive airline.

  • Try to be flexible about dates (one or two days on either end), and select that option when shopping for flights to find the lowest price.

  • Consider alternate airports to get lower fares. On a recent trip to Chicago, I found that the airfare to Midway Airport was less expensive than O'Hare, and it took the same amount of time to get to my hotel from Midway as O'Hare.

  • Subscribe to your favorite airlines' email newsletters to find out about special promotions because special promotional rates go quickly. Also sign up for "fare alerts" with travel search engines when you have specific cities you plan to visit. Fare alert systems allow you to name the cities you would like to visit with an estimated fare you would be willing to pay. If airfares hit that price (or go below that price) you will get an email notice.

  • If you are planning a last-minute weekend trip, look at weekend web deals on your airlines' websites to take advantage of rock-bottom last minute fares.

  • Do not focus on a particular airline just for the sake of earning airline miles. Because airline miles are only worth about 1 cent each by the time you redeem them, paying a premium on your airline tickets to earn miles doesn't make sense. Look for the lowest fares and sign up for all airlines' mileage programs.

  • Do an inventory of the frequent flier mileage balances in all of your accounts. Many airlines are terminating inactive accounts at the end of 2007. Even if you do not have enough miles to earn a free ticket, you may be able to redeem unused miles for other benefits such as a discount coupon off the price of a ticket you need to buy. For example, United Airlines will issue a $25 discount certificate that can be used towards the purchase of a United flight when you redeem 1,000 miles. You can also use 1,000 United miles to purchase a $25 gift certificate that you can use when you travel. You may even find, as I did, that you have enough miles in a forgotten account to earn one free ticket. Leave the kids with your spouse and go visit a friend or relative!

Stephanie Nelson has shared her savings tips on ABC News' Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping Magazine and hundreds of local radio and TV stations. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at Copyright 2006 Stephanie Nelson.