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How to Find Cheap Airline Tickets

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If you do travel a lot you must know what a frustrating and stressful experience finding the cheap airline ticket can be sometimes. But if you understand how the system of airline pricing works and with the following tips kept in mind when searching for a ticket, be sure that you will be the one who manages to get the lowest possible airfare.

Complex and rather unpredictable, airline pricing is driven by competition, demand, and inventory, and requires a great deal of comparison shopping, so you are bound to come across a wide range of prices and will inevitably confront with the challenge how to make the cheap fares yours. Airlines use inventory to their advantage and to attract the flyers. They divide seats on each flight into several price ranges and set aside a certain portion of discounted tickets. Naturally, the lowest fares draw your attention, but the trick is that usually by the time you call those seats will be gone. If there is low availability and high demand, the price of the air ticket will be high, so you will have to wait for a cheap fare. But that does not necessarily mean you should give up on a trip that is very popular. Very often airlines may change their fares or open up more discounted seats, depending on how sales are going.

If you are seriously determined to get the cheapest airfare, we advise you to peruse the following tips how to get the best airfare. But be prepared to spend time searching for the cheapest air ticket, as the more time you spend researching, the lower the rate you will get.

1. Start searching as early as possible, at least a month in advance

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Passengers who book long in advance may pay the fraction of the full price. Airlines typically attach restrictions to discount fares, like a 7-, 14-, or 21-day advance purchase and/or a Saturday night stay. So the advice is to purchase advance-ticket discounts by reserving 21 days ahead and book even earlier for holiday flights, especially in November and December. Remember that you may fail to use frequent-flier miles during holiday 'blackout periods'. If you are lucky you may came across the last minute ticket which is often very cheap, but sometimes offers very little flexibility.

2. Search the Internet for the cheapest fare

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Check the most popular online travel agencies as Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz. These sites will check the status of your plane, check fares for you, e-mail you when fares in your price range pop up, let you comparison shop, and allow you to buy tickets from the convenience of your home at any time. You may not necessarily buy online, and turn to the airline or a travel agent, even though you have found your best rate online. But buying online is very convenient for those who want to get it done as quickly as possible, knowing that if you don't buy it now, the fare could be gone by tomorrow. For example, Travelocity.com has airplane seat maps for 13 airlines, in case you want to choose your seat too. Many trip planning sites also have hotel room finders and car rental options. Cheap Tickets has a Fare Aware option that shows what other passengers paid for a certain trip at the same time last year. One of the advantages of using these Internet sites is that you can often find sweet deals at the last minute. If you want to fly on a whim for the weekend, this is really the best route to go.

Other websites for booking airline tickets online include Priceline.com and Cheap Tickets.

3. Keep yourself updated on airfare fluctuations by watching the news and reading the newspaper

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Often airlines have full planes, so they may add discount seats without warning. A flight you might have given up on could yield you a seat if you checked back in a day or two or even a week or month later.

4. Look for limited-time promotional fares or fare wars

Look for limited-time promotional fares or fare wars (when airline companies lower prices on their most popular routes) of major airlines like Delta, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and airline companies just starting up. Check smaller discount airlines that may not be included in the central reservation systems. These smaller airlines usually only have area-specific flights available, but they are much cheaper than the big airlines. So especially consider them if you are traveling not too far. For example, check cheap-chic airline JetBlue that offers low fares and classy service and Southwest, the leading discount airline of the country.

5. Be flexible in scheduling your flight

If you schedule is flexible, say so and ask if you could get a cheaper fare by changing your flight plans. This way you will know the best fare you can get so that you can change your dates if price is the most important factor. Just to let you know, the cheapest dates to fly are usually in the winter, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year's time. So if you can be really vague, try to arrange for your flight sometime during the cold season. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are typically the cheapest days to fly; late-night flights ('red-eyes'), very early morning flights and flights with at least one stop are sold with discount as well.

6. Book a package

Remember that the best way to save when booking is to book a package with flight, hotel and a rental car. Travel sites offer such packages that will enable you to get the airline ticket and a hotel accommodation at a discounted price. You may also ask the airline if a rental car or hotel room is available at a discount along with the airline ticket.

7. Compare shop

Find out whether the stated fare is the cheapest, and inquire about other options if you speak to the airline reservations clerk. If you search the Internet, check more than one Web site for a comparison shop.

8. Inquire about standby fares if you are flying off-season

High season is a bad time to fly standby because most airlines overbook flights, making it difficult to find a spare seat.

9. Purchase tickets through consolidators, also known as bucket shops

Consolidators buy blocks of deeply discounted tickets and sell them to online ticket agencies, travel agents, tour operators and, to a lesser degree, to the general public at a discount to help an airline fill up all available seats. Check the travel section of the newspaper under 'Ticket Consolidators'. The disadvantage is that these tickets are often sold with restriction like stiff cancellation penalties that can be up to 50% -75% of the ticket price. And do remember that what you see advertised is of rather limited availability.

10. Stay with the same airline during your entire trip to receive round-trip or connecting fare discounts

Round trips are about the same as one-way tickets, so it is worth taking this option into account.

11. Check secondary airports or nearby destinations

Ask about secondary airports outside the city or even in a nearby city that is less popular. And then you can easily drive to your destination by car.

12. Join a frequent-flyer club

Club membership will entitle you to free tickets or upgrades when you amass the required number of frequent-flier points required by the airline.

13. Use the services of the travel agent

Travel agents have an edge over Internet travel sites, because they are trained to work the system and know how to use the central reservation systems better and faster to unearth information. They may have access to all airline booking systems, although sometimes they may be under contract with only one central reservation system. A good travel agent may get first class for the price of business class and he does enough volume of business to get discounts with airlines on his own behalf, which he should pass on to you – his client. Another travel agent benefit is the access to a wide range of services beyond the flight. A travel agent can provide information about vacation package deals and can easily arrange accommodations and car rentals. These packages can be really great, because even if the flight itself isn't such a deal, you might get tremendous savings on hotel prices. Internet travel sites also provide these kinds of services, but like the airline searches, they require an affinity for entering dates and specifying choices. Agents can also share with you some valuable knowledge about your destination and help you with restaurant recommendations and reservations, for example.

Well, you may ask why you should spend time searching the Internet and not just go straight to a travel agent. Travel agents are a good source of information, but they are humans and deal with numerous demanding customers such as yourself. You may be put on hold or your agent may not be available when you are, whereas the Internet can be accessed at any time. And finally, there is one more thing. Agents make 5% commission on airplane tickets, which totals $50 for a round-trip and $25 for a one-way domestic ticket. And naturally the commission system can also affect how hard travel agents search for the cheapest tickets: more expensive tickets will yield them more commissions. That's why we recommend you to conduct your own independent research on the Internet, even though you use the service of a travel agent.