International airlines such as Qantas regularly offer lower fares (sometimes… (Rick Rycroft / Associated…)
Airfares on many routes are more expensive this year than last. Even so, there are (relative) deals to be had any time of year. Here's how to help make your airfare dollars go further.
Sign up for the airlines' email feeds and frequent-flier programs. The airlines want to develop a one-on-one relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals. Because airline sites sell much more than airfares these days (hotels, rental cars, credit cards and such), they will entice you to deal directly with them rather than using a third-party site. If you're on Twitter, follow the airlines that use it to promote Twitter-only deals.
Sign up for third-party fare alerts. Do a browser search for "airfare alerts." Many airfare websites offer them, and most have something worthwhile to offer. Some let you track your specific itinerary, down to the flight number and dates of travel, and will notify you of a price-drop refund.
Search airline sites individually but not exclusively. International airlines such as Aer Lingus, Iberia and Qantas regularly offer lower fares (sometimes $100 to $400 less) on their own websites. But don't ignore online travel agencies, because these sites will tell you whether it's cheaper flying out on one airline and back on another. In general, airline sites want you to fly only on their metal.
Buy hotel and air packages. It's often significantly cheaper to buy a package. Travelocity "TotalTrip" offerings, especially on last-minute flights, pop up with hotel plus air for half the price of airfare alone. Lastminute.com is also a good source for last-minute packages.
Consider Priceline or Hotwire for last-minute trips. If you don't have the advance-purchase window in which to buy your fare, your best bet may be to name your own price. You give up the certainty of knowing exact flight times or which airline, but you can save half or more.
Think premium bargains. Consolidators specializing in premium (first or business) seats should have some deals; to find them, do a browser search for "consolidator" and whatever your destination may be. Beware of restrictions, of course. The airlines sometimes discount premium cabin seats as well, so check the specials on their websites.
Use a flexible date search. You may not have the latitude, but if you do, would you fly in a different month or a day or two earlier or later to save hundreds? If so, learn how to do a flexible travel date search on airline and third-party sites. Kayak's is versatile, although once in a while the results are inaccurate because of rapidly changing airfares.
Consider extra fees before you buy. If Southwest has a fare of $198 round trip and United has one for $178, and you are checking bags, Southwest has the lower fare because the first two checked bags are free.
Combine two separate fares rather than buying one fare. If you're flying to a European destination, you might save money by buying a fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, Ireland, and another from Dublin onward on Ryanair.com (just beware of Ryanair's onerous baggage fees.) Same holds true for some destinations in Asia (fly into Singapore and catch a low-cost carrier such as Air Asia from there) and to some smaller Caribbean destinations by way of San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the Bahamas.
Check fares several times a day. Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently. So if you don't like the fare at 10 a.m., check at 2 p.m. or the next day and you may be surprised. But if it's a good fare, book it.