5 new rules for booking flights
Evolving technology and heated competition between the airlines have changed the game when it comes to how you should book your flights — that is if you want to save time and prevent hassles. Here are five new rules for booking flights.
The buy-on-Tuesday rule is a myth.
The idea that you can save money on plane tickets by purchasing them on Tuesday is one of “the most pervasive myths” around booking travel, says Dara Continenza, editor at flight research site Hopper.com. While “historically, there might have been some truth to ‘buying on a Tuesday’ when airline employees managed prices by hand and implemented decisions early in the work week,” now — with computers and algorithms managing this process — that rule is bunk in most cases, she adds. Indeed, an analysis by Hopper showed that Tuesday is only the cheapest day of the week to buy airfare for 1.6% of all domestic routes.
“While there is some predictable variation in airfare based on the day of week that you buy, and the days that you fly, it’s different for every route, and even for different airlines serving that route,” she says. That means consumers can’t count on any day as the near-perfect buy-now day, and instead should start hunting for airfare often and early and setting fare alerts. “Sales are more random now with lots of short, quick sales that are under 24 hours,” says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for travel deals site Travelzoo.
Flying private can be affordable.
It used to be that only the rich and famous could fly private, but recently a host of new airlines and sites are making private jet travel accessible to those with not-as-deep wallets. JetSuite.com offers last-minute deals on its flights for as low as $90 per person (though you must book a minimum of six seats for a total of $536, so get a group together) and both Surf Air (serving California and Las Vegas) and Beacon (which will soon serve New York, Boston, Nantucket and the Hamptons) offer monthly memberships starting at $1,750 and $2,000, respectively, that allow unlimited private jet travel; if you make multiple flights to these spots in a month anyway, this can shake out to be the same price as flying commercial.
Consider booking directly with the airline.
It used to be that the best way to get good rates on airfare was to use one of the online travel agency (OTA) sites like Expedia or Priceline that aggregate flights deals. But in plenty of cases, that’s not true anymore. Airlines are now more frequently offering deals and discount codes directly on their sites that aren’t available on the OTA sites, says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. Plus, some airlines offer fare guarantees. For example, if you book a flight directly on Delta.com and find a fare at least $10 lower on another U.S.-based travel website, Delta will refund you the difference and give you a $100 voucher.
Hobica notes that you should still look at prices on OTAs to see if you’re getting a good rate (he says these sites tend to have particularly good rates on last-minute travel and packages), but once you do, you may want to consider booking right with the airline, assuming they offer a very similar price (many times, they do). This may offer you the ability (for a cost, of course) to better customize your trip by adding things you want like extra legroom. “It’s more convenient and seamless to go directly to the airline,” he says.
Airline-branded credit cards aren’t the best way to get free flights.
It wasn’t too long ago that getting an airline-branded credit card was a no-brainer — you’d get free flights more quickly than with other cards. But nowadays you can often earn free flights faster and easier with a good general travel rewards credit card, says Sean McQuay, a credit card associate with credit card comparison site NerdWallet.com. “The overall story is that these airline-specific cards are not giving as good rewards rates as the more general rewards cards — and they’re more limited because they’re with one airline and the rewards themselves are not worth as much now,” he says. Indeed, airlines have been devaluing their miles for years.
However, McQuay says that frequent fliers may want to have an airline branded credit card in their pockets for the perks like free checked bags and early boarding, but not use it for purchases (instead use your higher rewards general travel card); the annual fee on those cards may be worth it if you get enough free checked bags or other perks, he points out.
Procrastinate when buying your plane ticket home for Thanksgiving.
Your mom — and the media — have probably told you that you’d better book early to get a good deal on Thanksgiving airfare. Data shows that’s simply not true: Prices for Thanksgiving airfare start off high and don’t rise very much (and sometimes even fall) until very close to Thanksgiving, according to a multiyear analysis by Hopper — so you needn’t buy your ticket months and months in advance. In fact, you’ll pay roughly the same price for your Thanksgiving airfare whether you book 120, 60, 30 or even just 14 days before departure — and sometimes waiting can even yield you a slightly lower fare. However, this isn’t true of Christmas airfare (fares start rising about two months out), so don’t procrastinate in that case.
By Catey Hill(Catey Hill covers personal finance and travel for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.) for marketwatch
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