NEW YORK — Booking air travel is stressful. How far in advance should you book? Did you get the best fare?
That anxiety is magnified this time of year as travelers finalize holiday plans and look ahead to winter getaways and spring break. In an interview with AP Travel’s “Get Outta Here” podcast , AirfareWatchdog.com founder George Hobica offered some advice for finding the best deals.
FARE SEARCHES AND PRICE TRACKING
“Sign up for airfare alerts,” Hobica said. “There are many website products that will give you an alert when the fare goes up or down,” including AirfareWatchdog, Google Flights, Expedia, Kayak and Priceline.
Just remember not all airlines are tracked by every website. For example, Delta flights don’t show up on Hopper, JetBlue no longer sells tickets on Vayama and Southwest bans third-party websites from automatically scraping its data. AirfareWatchdog includes Southwest flights by manually collecting the information.
AirfareWatchdog also specializes in spotting deals that may “only last for a few hours or maybe a day or two,” Hobica said. Sign up for alerts for specific routes and you’ll receive an email when prices hit reasonable levels or go on sale.
Hoping to score a $1 or $20 “mistake fare” that airlines publish by accident? Hobica says they’re “rare these days” because airline computers catch them.
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE SHOULD YOU BOOK?
“Last-minute fares are always more expensive,” Hobica said.
Some studies suggest that nine to 12 weeks ahead is the best time frame for booking domestic tickets.
How about holiday fares? Should you book Thanksgiving fares in April or May?
“Definitely start looking as early as possible if you know you’re going to travel over a holiday,” Hobica said.
Prices are higher around the holidays because many travelers prefer the same schedule. They want to arrive in time for the meal on Thanksgiving Thursday or be back at work the first weekday after Christmas. If your schedule is flexible, you’ll get a better price by staying a day or two later or leaving a day early. “Traveling on the Saturday after Thanksgiving is going to be cheaper than the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” he said.
MAGIC DAY TO BOOK?
“I don’t think there is a magic formula or a magic time of the week to look for a good airfare,” said Hobica. “There is a myth out there that Tuesday is the best time to book airfares.”
Airlines do announce sales on Tuesdays, he said, but also post sales on Fridays, sometimes unannounced, “hoping people will buy the last remaining seats on a flight.”
Hobica also sometimes sees “amazing airfare sales on Saturday and Sunday” when searches by consumers tend to fall off.
Is it better to book through airline websites?
Not necessarily. A search engine like BookingBuddy.com lets you compare the same flight on different websites.