7 Insider Secrets for Booking Cheap Airfare

Find affordable flights and stretch your travel budget

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These days, the need to escape the everyday grind for summer fun requires more belt-tightening than usual. But the search for cheap tickets can be difficult. Unless you know where to look, finding affordable flights and ways to stretch your travel budget can be a huge hassle. Here are seven insider secrets to booking cheap airfare:

[Related: How to Save Money on Travel]

Book six weeks in advance. According to a study by the Airlines Reporting Corporation, passengers pay the lowest price – almost 6% below the average fare – if tickets are purchased six weeks before their flight.

Always check online. Of course, there are three options: online travel agencies (OTAs), meta-search sites, and directly from the airline itself. Each source has advantages and disadvantages. OTAs such as Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity offer multiple options for discounted flights and provide one-stop shopping deals for flight packages that include hotel, transportation, activities and other items. Be aware, however, that OTAs do not always have the cheapest fares since some airlines, such as Southwest, choose not to sell tickets on third-party sites. Meta-search travel sites such, as Kayak, CheapOair and momondo, conduct specialized searches across major travel sites to offer the traveler an exhaustive list of flight options.

Contact the airlines directly. Yes, technology brings answers to our fingertips, but the tried and true traditional way of booking still offers steals, deals and specials that you wouldn’t know about if you didn’t call. If an airline is going where you’re headed, it’s worth taking time to check it individually.

Scan for morning deals. Although some airlines release discounted tickets throughout the day, early morning is when you’ll see most of lower fare deals available.

Fly on a Wednesday. According to a Farecompare.com study, the cheapest domestic travel is during the middle of the week. Wednesday is more likely to have better supply, which means more empty seats that require discounting to fill the plane. That translates to the availability of more seats at their cheapest price point. Other low-cost days to fly are Tuesday and Saturday. Watch out for Friday and Sunday, the most expensive days to travel.

Fly early. The cheapest flight is typically the first flight of the morning, so waking before dawn will be well worth it. The next-cheapest flight times are during or after lunch, or at the dinner hour. However, nothing beats red-eye flights as the absolute cheapest time to fly on limited routes.

Sign up for free alerts on AirfareWatchdog.com. Almost every major online booking site offers airfare alerts that ping you when fare prices fall. AirfareWatchdog.com stands out from the pack by using people to vet deals rather than computer systems, and they only send updates when they think it’s genuinely a good deal.