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Four Ways to Save on Flights

Tips for travelers as high fuel costs lead to pricier airline tickets

someone using a laptop to book a flight online
scyther5/Getty Images

 

Consumers aren’t paying more at the gas pump alone. Rising jet fuel costs and increasing demand for travel are driving up domestic and international airfares — in some cases by double digits. In February, airline fares in the U.S. rose 5.2 percent, according to the latest Consumer Price Index, and it’s gotten worse since then. 

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According to Hopper, an airfare comparison tool, round-trip airfare to Mexico and Central America is 17 percent higher month over month in March, and flights to Canada are up 9 percent. Domestic airline tickets, meanwhile, are 13 percent more expensive. 

It makes sense. Jet fuel is the second-highest expense for airlines, after labor, representing about 30 percent of the industry’s expenditures. Cost increases are generally passed along to consumers, and with the price of jet fuel rising 30 percent so far this year and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine still a few months away, consumers should prepare to pay even more for flights.

“Domestic airfare is up about 23 percent year over year,” says Hayley Berg, head of price intelligence at Hopper. “There’s increasing demand compared to 2021. The other piece is jet fuel. Even before the crisis in Ukraine began, jet fuel prices are double what they were at this time last year.” The good news is that there are ways to save on airfares. Here are four strategies.

Be flexible where and when you travel

Being flexible can go a long way toward saving money. Flying during off-peak times, heading to less popular destinations and visiting cities in the off-season can reduce the cost of airfare. “Let the price decide where you travel,” says Kathleen Peddicord, founder and CEO of Live and Invest Overseas. “You can go to Skyscanner, for instance, type your city into the ‘from’ box, type ‘everywhere’ into the ‘to’ box, and sort the price from lowest to highest.” 

According to FareCompare, the cheapest days to fly within the U.S. are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For European flights, aim for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Flights with a stopover may be an inconvenience, but they tend to be cheaper.

Berg advises consumers to consider flying to a regional airport to get a better deal. It may be an hour away from your destination, but the cost savings could be worth the inconvenience. “Oftentimes, low-cost carriers offer the lowest or match the prices of the major carriers that fly in and out of more regional airports,” Berg says. “Southwest and Frontier both have a huge presence in Providence, which is about an hour from Boston. Prices can be better than flying into Boston.” 

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Book early

Last-minute flights cost a lot more than those booked in advance. But how far ahead do you have to reserve a seat to save the most? According to CheapAir, purchasing your ticket 134 to 320 days in advance is the sweet spot. Book too early or too late and you’ll likely overpay for your flight. That may get tricky with COVID-19 still around or if a health issue may preclude you from future travel. Travel insurance is an option if you are concerned about booking a trip so far in advance. “We do not think that trip insurance for airfare is worth the cost,” Peddicord says. “However, for older people with potential health issues that could have them canceling their trip, it may make sense to do so.”

Sign up for airfare and travel deals

The airline industry is competitive, and even with jet fuel prices surging, the airlines run promotions to entice consumers. As a result, many carriers offer deals and discounts from time to time. You won’t know about the potential savings if you don’t sign up for deal alerts via email or text message. There are also several price-monitoring services that will do the work for you. These tools track airfares and send alerts to subscribers when prices drop.

This strategy is particularly useful if you are flexible about when and where you travel, which enables you to take advantage of deals that pop up. Even if you have a set destination in mind, the more deal sites and airlines you sign up with, the more opportunities you’ll have to save.

Take advantage of discounts

Loyalty has its rewards. The more you travel with a particular carrier, the more points you rack up if you sign up for the airline’s rewards program. The savings don’t end there. AARP offers discounts to its members on travel, including flights, as do other groups and associations. Many rewards credit cards let customers redeem accumulated points for flights. If you accumulate enough, you can fly for free. 

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