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How to Save Money on Flights (Despite Rising Fuel Prices)

As fuel prices and demand for travel rise, so will airfare prices. According to travel booking site Hopper, domestic airfare is already well above 2019 levels. Ticket prices today cost an average of $325 compared to $305 in mid-March of 2019. 

Rising jet fuel costs, an increased interest in travel post-Omicron, and general seasonal demand for travel during the spring/summer have contributed to a rise in ticket prices. Ellie Breslin, PR Manager for Hopper, explains, “In general, jet fuel accounts for about 30% of an airline’s costs, usually the second biggest expense after operational costs such as labor. This means historically a 10% rise in jet fuel cost would be associated with a 3% increase in operating expenses for the airline,” which will then get passed on to the flier as a higher ticket cost.

How to Find Cheap Plane Tickets

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If you haven’t booked your spring or summer trip yet, don’t despair. There are still ways you can save money on flights and find affordable tickets. As Lousson Smith, Product Operations Specialist for Scott’s Cheap Flights says, “The good news is that you can’t book average fares, you can only book an available fare. Prices fluctuate often and deals are still available out of your home airport.”

Here are some easy way to save on plane tickets:

Sign Up for Fare Alerts

Signing up for fare alerts takes less than a minute and can save you hundreds of dollars without any effort. Sites like Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site), Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Google Flights all offer the ability to sign up for alerts so you’ll be notified when there is a cheap deal from your home airport or on a specific route.

Lock in a Low Rate If you’re Unsure

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If there’s a chance your plans might change, but you see a cheap deal on tickets you want to snag before prices go up, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Look for a flexible rate ticket that allows you free cancellations.
  2. Lock in the low rate using Hopper’s Price Freeze feature, which allows you to reserve a ticket price for up to 21 days for a fee (the fee varies depending on itinerary). 

Book During the Goldilocks Window

Book your flight too early or too late and you could overpay. Smith refers to the perfect time to book a ticket as the “Goldilocks Window,” saying “For domestic flights, it’s normally 1 to 3 months before your travel dates. For international trips, it’s 2 to 8 months prior.” Traveling for a holiday? Smith advises, “add a couple months to those windows.”

Fly Off-Peak 

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Flyers will likely find the biggest savings if they are able to travel during off-peak periods. Breslin recommends flying midweek, “departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday.” Breslin adds, “The day you return matters a bit more, with midweek departures saving you around $20/round-trip and midweek returns saving you around $30/round-trip on average.”

Also consider traveling during the shoulder season, if possible (for example vacationing in late summer or early fall instead of mid-July.) Hopper estimates that this could save you about 12% on average, and nearly 20% compared to traveling over the Fourth of July weekend. 

Be Flexible

Being open to a variety of destinations is the best tactic for finding cheap airfare. “If you book a trip with the thought that you have to go to a specific place with very rigid dates you probably will end up overpaying”, says Smith.”

Check out Google Flights’ Explore Map or search Skyscanner using “everywhere” as your destination to see cheap deals from your home airport to a number of different locations over a wide range of dates. 

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