Book at different times for different destinations
Is there really a magic, one-size-fits-all rule for when to book the cheapest flights?
I contacted representatives from Kayak.com, and they confirmed with me that there is no precise date or time that will always give you the lowest airfare. Nonetheless, their data does suggest that there are a few reliable guidelines for when to book, depending on where you want to go:
- Canadians travelling domestically should book their flights about 3-5 weeks in advance.
- Going to the US? Book about 8 months in advance.
- Flying to another overseas destination? Ideally you should try to purchase tickets about 11 months in advance (!) to get the lowest average prices.
Of course, not everyone can plan that far ahead. Fortunately there are some other simple tricks that you can utilize to help you save more money on your next flight.
Book with a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees
Some airlines only allow you to pay in the local currency, particularly the low-cost airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir. If your credit card charges foreign transaction fees (and if you’re Canadian, it most likely does), you’ll end up paying an additional 2.5% fee which is rolled right into the exchange rate. For example, I recently purchased some airfare in Euros that cost me a total of $534.51. Had I used a credit card without foreign transaction fees, I would have paid $521.14.
Yes, it’s a seemingly minor difference, but in Europe that’s enough for a fancy dessert or a very decent bottle of wine with dinner.
Fly during the shoulder season or off-season
Generally speaking, July and August are the most expensive times to travel. If you travel in the spring (April / May) or autumn (September / October) flights tend to be much cheaper due to supply and demand. You’ll also want to factor in any local festivals or holidays that may affect prices in your specific destination, such as cherry blossom season in Japan or spring break in the US and the Caribbean. The other advantage of travelling during the off-season is the fact that there will be less tourists around which means less wait times for attractions and cheaper prices for hotels.
Be flexible with your dates and locations
Since airfare is based on supply and demand, flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday will likely be cheaper than say a Friday or Sunday. The time of day can also make a difference: flying overnight usually has lower fares since that departure time is much less desirable compared to a flight that takes off at 10am.
If you’re fully flexible, you can find some really good deals. KAYAK has an ‘explore’ tool that will show you the cheapest fares for flights all over the world, which you can filter based on your budget and preferred length of flight.
Charge flights to a travel rewards credit card
Any purchase you make is a chance to rack up travel rewards points, which can eventually be used to get heavily discounted (or even free) flights. And depending on which card you apply for, you could earn a sign-up bonus large enough to fly free right away. Two cards we recommend for earning travel rewards are the BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®* and the Scotiabank®* Gold American Express® Card.
Use any loyalty points that you might have
Before deciding on a flight, check to see if you already have any loyalty or rewards points tucked away that you can use to redeem for a discount. But keep in mind that different programs have different procedures for redemption, as well as minimum numbers of points that can be redeemed at a time. MBNA Rewards, for instance, requires a minimum of 10,000 points to be redeemed on travel. Amex Membership Rewards, on the other hand, allows as little as 1,000 Amex points to be redeemed on flights. And every little bit counts.
Sign up for newsletters
I know, your inbox is crowded with junk emails, but signing up for newsletters is one sure way to get you a deal on flights. Airlines, tour operators, and deal websites always alert their loyal fans first whenever a seat sale or deal comes up. Quite often these low prices only last a few hours, so you need to book right away!
Consolidate your points
We already talked about the importance of actually using points you already have, but by consolidating points, you can potentially save even more. Getting a supplementary or joint credit card is a great way to earn points into a single account with multiple family members. Alternatively, some rewards programs allow you to transfer points to your spouse or even to other rewards programs.
Set price alerts
Instead of spending hours searching for cheap airfare, you can save yourself time by setting up a price alert on various sites such as Skyscanner. Simply enter your travel requirements and when you’re on the results page, click “Get Price Alerts.” Now you’ll be notified directly via email whenever there’s a price drop.
One final trick when it comes to saving money on flights is to book a flight with a stopover, or choose a ‘multi-destination’ flight itinerary. Many airlines allow you to stopover in a city for a few days at no extra charge, which is a great way to enrich your trip by seeing another locale.
Multi-destination flights fly into one city and out of a different one, e.g. into Rome but out of London. You would have to make your way between those two cities, but at least you wouldn’t have to backtrack to fly home.
It’s true, airfare can be expensive, but by using some of the tricks we’ve listed, you’ll never need to pay full price again.
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