8 Costly Mistakes You're Making When Booking Flights – and How to Avoid Them
Everyone wants to find cheap flights, but travel experts know that finding deals takes more than plugging in your dates and clicking “buy.” There are extensive booking strategies, but some — even ones you may be using — are completely outdated.
“The ‘rules’ of travel evolve as travel itself evolves,” said Liana Corwin, Hopper's resident consumer travel expert. “Not only are there more options for consumers, such as low cost carriers in an increasing number of markets and new fare classes like basic economy, but there is also much more transparency around flight pricing that previously didn't exist before.”
That transparency is helping debunk commonly held travel myths, which, according to Hopper, could be holding you back from saving almost $300 on spring flights in 2019.
Here are the mistakes you might be making when booking a flight.
1. Always booking the cheapest fare
United, American, and Delta all offer basic economy fares, which are a cut lower than the standard economy class and often don’t allow you to bring a carry-on, choose your seat, or change your ticket.
These fares may look like the cheapest flight option, but you’ll have to either play by their rules or anticipate paying extra for things that are included in the economy fare. If you’ve got bags or need to sit with a family member (or hate the middle seat), you may actually save money by booking the standard economy fare upfront.
2. Booking too early (or too late)
The belief that you can find the best rate by buying flights as early as possible is outdated. You can book flights 11 months prior to departure, but Hopper’s Chief Data Scientist Patrick Surry warns that this isn’t the time to book if you want the lowest ticket price. According to Surry, “booking more than six months ahead can cost you since airlines set their initial prices conservatively.”
On the flipside, Corwin said that “booking at the last minute is still going to cost you a premium. Prices typically start spiking in the two weeks leading up to a trip, and it's very unlikely that you'll find a better deal in that window than if you had purchased at an earlier date.” The 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook from ARC and the Expedia Group reported that booking three weeks in advance is usually where the best prices are found, but to make sure you don’t miss a fare drop, apps like Hopper, Kayak, and Google Flights will track the flights you want and notify you when it’s time to book.
3. Buying tickets over the weekend
Buying tickets over the weekend may work with your schedule, but could hurt your wallet. By shopping for flights at predictable times – or when everyone else is buying – you’ll hurt your chances of finding a good deal. Hopper reports that “There are significantly fewer deals available on the weekend for both domestic and international trips.”
Instead of hoping to find a deal on a Sunday or Tuesday, set alerts for the trips you want to take using the tools mentioned above.
4. Avoiding early morning flights
The redye is often thought to be the cheapest fare of the day, but according to Skyscanner flying at 5 a.m. is the true sweet spot. Hopper’s data confirms this finding, noting that spring travelers are seeing marginal savings by flying between 4 and 8 a.m. in the morning. Corwin says, “Most people want to fly after 8 a.m. and return home from a trip in the afternoon – that means you're more likely to save if you book an early morning return flight too.”
Early morning flights are also less likely to be delayed as most planes have landed for the night and the airspace is relatively quiet. Airports are also less crowded in the early mornings with Google traffic data showing that New York’s JFK airport is busiest between noon and 10 p.m.
5. Plugging in specific travel dates
According to the 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook, flights departing on Thursdays or Fridays tend to offer the lowest rates (with up to 10 percent in savings), while flights departing on Sundays were found to be the most expensive. While this is important to keep in mind, the cheapest days to travel varies by flight and destination. Using a booking engine like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Hopper allows you to compare rates over several days or an entire month to see when the cheapest travel days are.
Using this method, you might also be able to take advantage of airline errors or sale fares, resulting in crazy-cheap tickets at the airline or booking engine’s expense.
6. Flying home before the weekend
Air travel is almost always less expensive when you fly midweek, and with that rational in mind, flexible travelers often fly home before the weekend to avoid a perceived increase in fare. Hopper busted this myth by showing that every destination – excluding the Caribbean – offers discounts when the flight includes a Saturday night stay.
In some cases, savings are minimal, but if you’re looking at spring flights to Europe, including a Saturday night stay will save you almost 40 percent or $206 on average.
7. Forgetting budget airlines
It’s easy to plug in your travel dates and let big search engines do the work, but if you go this route you might miss out on budget airline fares. Thrifty Nomads reports that, as of 2018, most budget airlines appear in broad flight searches, but there are some exceptions. For example, Southwest’s fares often do not appear in Google Flights If you know a budget airline flies to your destination, head to their site directly to review rates.
8. Not trying out flight hacking
If you just aren’t finding an affordable flight, you might consider alternative booking methods. Skyscanner’s Everywhere search allows you to find cheap – and often direct – flights to a city near your destination. From there, you can book a second, separate flight that gets you to your final destination. Another method is to search flights out of nearby airports. Depending on where you live, an extra hour in the car may save you hundreds in airfare.
Most people steer away from one-way tickets, but in some cases they work. Consider flying into one airport and out another, and keep an eye on airline sales, which in Southwest’s case are often one-way.