Collecting and redeeming points is a great first step toward getting the best deals on flights. But why stop there? Here are a few more travel hacking techniques that can stretch your points even further.
- Comparison Shop
Remember that online travel agencies and aggregators like Expedia, Priceline, etc., don’t always offer the same prices for the same flights. Additionally, some airlines (most notably Southwest) don’t list with any aggregator — to see their fares, you need to go directly to the airline’s website. It can pay dividends to poke around a number of different websites before you buy, including checking directly with the airlines.
Sure, comparison shopping involves a little extra effort, but it can be well worth the trouble in the long run.
- Clear Your Browser Cookies and History
It’s well known that most websites keep track of your browsing activity. This helps them with their analytics and marketing, and it often also helps you by making things more convenient for you at that site.
What’s less well known is that sites can also use your browsing history against you. It’s now being reported that some sites will show you higher airfares for flights you’ve searched repeatedly. So if you’ve been checking that New York-to-London flight several times in the past few weeks, you may see the price suddenly bump up — because the site assumes you’re really interested, and therefore willing to pay more, especially if you want to grab the fare before it goes any higher.
But you’re not defenseless. There are several tactics you can use to outsmart these websites.
Using “incognito mode” or “private browsing” when researching airfares is a great start. When your browser is operating in this mode, it does not save any cookies or history information. Thus, if you go back to a site the next day (also using incognito mode, of course), the site will not recognize that you’ve been there before and should give you the “true” fares.
You can make doubly sure of near-anonymity by clearing your browser’s cookies, file cache, and browsing history before beginning your search. Then use incognito mode to ensure you don’t save any new history. Be aware, however, that clearing your cookies can delete many settings and preferences you’ve saved for various websites. Although tedious, you might want to delete cookies only for airfare-related sites, so as not to lose your preferences on other sites.
Searching from two different computers or Internet providers can also help you keep websites honest. If the site is tracking your IP address (your unique identifier on the Internet), it may recognize you despite incognito mode if you’re using the same computer or searching from the same location repeatedly. In this case, searching from your phone (provided it’s not connected to your home wifi) and from your computer (connected to your home wifi) will provide two different IP addresses, making you look like two different people. So will searching from work and from home, etc.
- Be Flexible on Your Travel (and Booking!) Days
Sometimes you absolutely, positively have to fly on a certain day of the week. There is simply no way around it. But in many cases, you have the flexibility to travel on a number of different days, whether outbound, returning, or both. This flexibility can play to your advantage.
Flying on Fridays and Sundays is almost always more expensive than flying on other days, simply because there is more demand from both business and leisure travelers on those days. Avoid them if you can. Research has shown that fares are generally cheaper for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday flights, so if you can schedule your travel for those days, you’re likely to save a few bucks. Most flight search engines have an option to show “nearby days” to the dates you actually input. Using this option makes it easy to find potentially big savings if you’re not locked into a particular travel day.
Additionally, at least one study has shown that it’s not only the day you travel that’s important, but also the day you actually book your flight. According to this study, the best time to book a U.S. domestic flight is 3:00 pm on a Tuesday. Your mileage may vary here, of course — and international flights are a whole different animal — but it’s worth researching fares on different days of the week to see what kind of differences you find.
- Be Flexible on the Airport You Travel From
If you’re traveling from a city with more than one airport, searching “all airports” rather than just one particular airport can open additional options for you. Some airports charge higher fees, taxes, etc., and these costs are reflected in the price of your ticket. Also, if you omit a smaller airport from your search, you’re probably also omitting some airlines that only fly from that airport — airlines that could have lower fares.
- Bundle When Possible
Many aggregator sites — and even some airline sites — provide significant discounts when you bundle your airline tickets with a hotel and/or rental car. So if you’re going to need that hotel room or car anyway, it’s usually well worthwhile to book them all together. You can often reap significant savings compared to the cost of booking separately.
Although booking a flight can be a nerve-wracking experience, these five tactics can help you squeeze the most out of it. Give them a try and see how they work for you.