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Knowing These Tips Can Save You Big Bucks On Airfare

If you’re looking for plane tickets, you’ve probably spent time navigating various websites, wondering if there’s any rhyme or reason to how airfare is priced. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says there is, in fact, a method to the madness.

'Airlines Want To Have Their Cake And Eat It, Too'

Airlines count on a bell curve when setting air fares. On any given flight, a small percentage of passengers will have paid very little for their ticket. Another small percentage will have paid a lot. The rest of us fall in the middle somewhere.

“I read an article that said there are something like 43 different economy class fares between Chicago and L.A. on United Airlines, on the same route, on the exact same flight,” Brumley said. “Airlines want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to fill as many seats on each flight at the highest price.”

Airlines use technology to constantly monitor each flight, he said. As a plane fills, the airlines adjust the fares to optimize their profits. But there are ways to work the system to your advantage.

1. Sign Up For Price Alerts

If you know you’re traveling in a few months, sign up now so you can book when the prices are lowest. Most travel and airline websites offer this service. Brumley recommends Kayak, Skyscanner andAirfare Watchdog.

2. Travel On 'Off-Days'

If you can travel midweek or take a red-eye, flights will be less expensive. Friday and Sunday flights tend to be especially pricey.

3. Look On Your Tuesday Lunch Hour

Airlines release their discounted fares around noon (Pacific Time) on Tuesdays. Flights are typically less expensive then.

4. Fly To Surrounding Cities

Heading to New York? Check out flights to Newark. Heading to San Francisco? There might be cheaper flights to Oakland.

5. Be Ready To Book When You Find A Good Fare

By nailing down your travel plans before you shop, you avoid having to double check and return later, only to find a higher-priced ticket.

6. Get A Jump On Vacation 

“I will yank [my kids] out of school a day or two early, and usually find a better fare on a Wednesday or Thursday departure,” Brumley said. “You’ll save usually a couple hundred dollars a fare.”

Be sure to touch base with your child’s teacher to make sure they can make up the work they might miss.

Bottom Line

Book early, set a price alert and be flexible with your dates.

Do you have a tried-and-true tip on saving money on airfare? Share them with us in the comments below!


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" is our travel segment exploring all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B. Tell us what you think about responsible travel, or suggest topics for future installations of this series. Have a travel hangup or a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.