In the travel world, a major concern is cheap airfare. Questions about finding the cheapest flights to a desired destination swirl in travelers’ heads.
How do I get the best price? What day is the best day to buy? What day is the best day to fly? Is a connecting flight worth it?
You get the point.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the purchase of flights, and it’s for good reason. Cheap airfare gets you hooked just for you to find out it’s an extra $70 for bags, choosing to sit with your travel buddies, and more.
When I plan a trip, I do a ton of research before I decide to purchase a ticket. There’s a lot of math involved, plenty of Google searches, and many hours spent on the computer (and phone).
Part of the reason I do so much research is so that I know I’m spending my money wisely. Sure, finding a ticket for $100 cheaper than the average flight to Turks and Caicos sounds great on paper, but how much better is it?
There are certain questions I ask myself before I decide to purchase the cheapest flight I can find:
1. Is it a connecting flight? If so, how long is the layover?
A connecting flight can sometimes be necessary, or it’s no big deal. If you’re flying to Australia from New York, you will absolutely need a connecting flight. If the layover is for 1 hour, it’s easy to justify.
However, if you find a long layover for a flight that could be non-stop, you may need to reevaluate the situation. For example, my home airport is Newark (EWR). My drive there from my house is about 10-15 minutes depending on traffic. I could take a route that doesn’t require tolls, or I can take the Turnpike and pay a minimal fee.
This past winter I traveled to Turks & Caicos and took an overnight connection in Boston from LaGuardia Airport. If you’re in the same boat, there are a few things to take into consideration for a decision like that:
I added a place to stay in Boston, a ride to and from the Boston Airport, a ride to a further airport. (My dad paid ridiculous tolls to get into NYC, wasted more gas, and took more time out of his day.)
I subtracted an extra night’s stay at the hotel in Providenciales and the difference between flight costs (connecting compared with non-stop).
When you add up everything you’re “adding” to the trip as well as everything you’ll be “subtracting” from the trip, find the difference between the two.
($ of non-stop flight – $ of connecting flight) – (Additions – Subtractions) = ??? SAVINGS
If you find the number from that scientifically proven (no, it’s not) equation is not worth the efforts, then just book the more expensive flight. If you’ll only save $20, but you’re dying to see the place you have a long layover in, then book the connecting! That’s the thing about this equation—it’s subjective, unlike real math problems. To some, saving $20 by laying over in Boston for a night is not worth it. To others, it is. Use your own discretion.
2. Do I need to pay additional fees for things that are included with another airline?
There are plenty of flights I find that seem really cheap and ideal. Then I find out that I need to pay several extra fees for basic necessities on a flight.
On Spirit Airlines, if you book a trip for more than just yourself, you need to pay a small fee to choose your seats. If you don’t mind sitting scattered around the plane as opposed to next to your travel buddies, then skipping that fee is an easy decision.
You’ll also need to pay a fee for bringing a carry-on. That’s right, a carry-on is free on most other airlines, but you need to pay for it on Spirit. It’s usually $35-40 if you purchase it before you check in, but it’s a few dollars more than that if you wait until you check in for your flight. If the difference in prices is still minimal or even nonexistent, it all comes down to your preference of airline.
3. Do I have the flexibility to change the days I fly?
Leaving on Thursday-Saturday and returning on Saturday-Monday are the most popular days to fly. Airlines know that. You know that. Everyone knows that.
People want to take the least amount of days off work and don’t want to take their kids out of school at odd times. When you’re in college, fresh to the working world, or “pre-child”, taking off on odd days and traveling at off-peak times aren’t really an issue.
Take a look at the calendar and decide if you can adjust the days you fly. If you shift your trip by even one day, it can make a big difference in price.
4. Am I okay with visiting *insert place here* at an off-peak time?
I’ve been dying to go to Paris ever since I was a little girl. I didn’t care how or when I traveled there, I just knew I had to make it happen. Well, my boyfriend, the best person ever, bought us tickets to go to Paris in November! I almost collapsed when he told me that’d be his early Christmas gift to me.
When I told people (i.e. everyone that I’ve spoken to since he told me) that we were going over Thanksgiving break, so many people told me how cold it’s going to be. I DON’T CARE! I don’t care if I have to wear seven layers of clothes the whole week. I don’t care if it snows. I actually hope it snows. I’m going to freaking Paris, one of the few places I’ve been itching to go to for years. Our flight costs were minimal and I am totally willing and excited to see this place at an off-peak time.
I think “off-peak” has a negative connotation surrounding it. Just because it’s off-peak season for a particular place doesn’t make it a bad time. It just means fewer people are traveling at that time. Wouldn’t you want that?
Sure, maybe the trees won’t have their colorful leaves and the weather won’t be as warm and sunny as usual, but does that matter in every place? Not necessarily. If you’re okay with a place being a little less Instaworthy during your trip, book it!
5. Am I willing to wait a few days and see how prices change?
Yes, prices for flights vary by day, but it’s not by much. Prices will fluctuate by a small percentage depending on the day, but there is no one time that’s best. Sometimes you’ll find the best price on a Thursday and other times you’ll find the best price on a Tuesday.
If you want to just wait it out a few days and keep checking back to see what you can find, do your thing. But if you’re eager to book and don’t want to risk prices shooting up, go ahead and book the flight.
Just avoid Sundays!
6. Can I drive there? Will the time it takes to drive be worth it?
There are plenty of places you can drive to that will save you money on a flight. Obviously it’ll take you longer to get there, so you just need to weigh the options. For a weekend trip, a drive of 8 hours or less is doable. Anything more, you’d probably want to consider extending your time off from work. From there, you can decide what’s more feasible for you.
The best flight doesn’t always mean the cheapest flight. I think that’s where too many people make major mistakes. A cheap flight will always seem appealing at first sight. The key is not to get caught up in the excitement that you found a low rate.
There are so many things to take into consideration when you’re looking for a flight: additional fees, convenience, and flexibility are a few of the biggest factors. There’s a lot of decision-making throughout the planning process, and that’s why it can be so difficult to truly save money when traveling.
What you consider to be a great deal might seem like a headache to others. Do what feels most comfortable for you and your travel partners. You’re the ones who truly matter when planning a trip, after all.