Air Fare: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

- Wednesday, November 28, 2012
By Laura Andrews

I always knew going to Las Vegas and playing the tables was a gamble, but I never realized how the airline industry incorporates many of the same gaming techniques when purchasing tickets.  It’s always a gamble when you finalize a ticket purchase on whether or not the price will drop drastically tomorrow.  And I do mean drastically, not just by a few dollars and cents!

I was looking for a deal when planning my trip to Barcelona last May.  Prices out of JFK were hovering around $1,060 for weeks, give or take a few.  One week it dropped a hundred, the next week it went back up and another it went up to around $1,160.  The roller coaster effect was making me dizzy and frustrated. 

As it got closer to my departure date, I called a travel agent to book the quoted $1,160 fare simply because I was afraid it would go up even more.  It was getting nerve racking, checking in every week finding prices going haywire with no rhyme or reason to their madness.

Now I realize most people book online these days, but I was booking international and felt I needed some assistance due to lack of experience abroad. Because the agent needed specific information on my passport and I didn’t have it on me, I had to call back hoping to God, the price wasn’t going to go up another hundred or so.

Turns out the price went down the next day, by nearly 200 dollars. My lack of passport saved me some extra cash to spend on drinks and souvenirs.

I realize my story has a happy ending, but it could have easily turned out sour.

Here are some less risky pointers for the people who aren’t roller coaster friendly:

Book far in advance. Airlines reward those who rise early to catch the worm. They know the closer you are booking to your date, the more desperate you become and the more willing you are to pay extra to get that seat.

Watch for patterns. If you’re in the beginning stages of planning your trip, look up airline ticket prices every day for a week and see how much they fluctuate. This will give you a good idea of what prices you’re working with and how much money you may be able to save if you strike while the iron is hot.

Hunt for deals. Many travel websites will offer discounted airline ticket prices if you also book a car rental or a hotel visit at the same time. Definitely do not rule this out as an option. While you may end up paying more for the actual flight, you could save drastically in other areas of your trip. Remember: the flight is just one sliver of your vacation experience!

Bottom line: do your research and homework.  Airline ticket purchasing is definitely a gamble, but when you know any potential enemy’s history, it becomes more of a calculated risk, which we can agree is a far better option than blowing on dice and hoping for the best.

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