Now that you’ve determined the absolute cheapest dates to fly, shop airports.
If you have any flexibility regarding your home airport, now is the time to check the price of your desired travel days departing from multiple airports. For us, we know to expect to pay more every time we fly out of our small home airport. For many trips, we drive to a larger airport. In the case of our Cancun trip, we opted for San Francisco, and in other cases, we’ve driven in the opposite direction to Portland. When comparing costs from varying airports, be sure to calculate any driving, parking, and hotel stay expense into the deal.
Decide where to book.
Once you’ve identified the absolute cheapest dates to fly and the lowest fare from the best airport…take a little break. You might need a snack. Once you’re back, you need to decide whether to book through a travel booking site like Ortbitz or Expedia, or directly from the airline. Often, direct is best. If you have time, sign up for the airline’s email alerts (oy, the spam, I know!) and see if promo codes or discounts come your way. If you don’t have time for this, do a direct comparison. If the cost is exactly the same in either case, you may be better off with a booking site if they offer a price guarantee. For instance, I booked through Orbitz for our Cancun trip, because the price was identical, but Orbitz will refund me the difference if the price of my flight goes down. My airline does not (though some do). If you’re booking a long way out like I did for this international flight, this may be a good way to go.
Before pulling the trigger, make sure you are a member of the airline’s frequent flyer program, and add that membership number to your reservation. You can often earn free flights faster on budget airlines than on less economic ones, but loyalty does pay off: I would consider paying a few hundred dollars more overall to book with an airline with whom I’m already earning miles.
Note: If you’re booking with a budget airline (as we did), or really just about any airline these days, keep the cost of luggage fees in mind. Some budget airlines make you pay luggage fees when booking–something I try to avoid–and some charge for carry-on bags as well as checked now (I’m looking at you, Spirit and Allegiant).
You thought you were done, didn’t you?
Last but not least, sign up for fare tracking with Yapta, so you’ll know if your flight fare goes down. Now all that’s left to do is pour yourself a pre-vacation margarita. You’ve earned it! Then just relax until it’s time to start packing!
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