By Josh Roberts, SmarterTravel.com
Airlines will never tell you what you're doing wrong when it comes to booking airfare. But if you don't want to pay more than you should, avoid these seven booking errors at all costs.
Shop at night
Airlines generally release a limited number of inexpensive coach-class seats in the morning or early afternoon. From a consumer standpoint, that means the early bird gets the worm. If you're booking late at night, you stand a greater chance of finding only the leftover (read: more expensive) seats. Search early in the day for the best prices.
Fly on a weekend
The least expensive days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The means that if your departure or return flight falls on a Monday, Thursday, Friday, or Sunday, you're paying more than you need to. It may take some creative use of your vacation time--such as a trip that runs Tuesday to Tuesday rather than Sunday to Sunday--but what you lose in flexibility you more than make up for in savings.
Depart in the afternoon
Want to cost yourself some extra money? Book a flight that departs in the afternoon. That's the travel industry's version of rush hour, and for the privilege of flying when the skies are most congested (and delays are most common), you'll pay more than if you selected an early or late departure. Higher fares and more delays? Talk about adding insult to injury.
Unless you're aiming for elite status on a specific airline--which generally requires a minimum of 25,000 air miles flown per calendar year--it doesn't make a lot of sense to base your purchasing decisions around loyalty to an airline or its frequent-flyer program. Put simply: The value of a mile isn't what it used to be. Shop around on all of the major online travel agencies (OTAs) and directly with the low-cost carriers (like Southwest) and regional airlines whose best fares are nowhere to be found on OTAs.
Ignore bag fees
If you remember nothing else about shopping for airfare, remember this: Not all base prices are created equal. A $200 round-trip flight on American will cost you $250 if you check a bag. That same $200 flight on Southwest or JetBlue will cost you â?¦ $200. Calculate the cost of bag fees when comparing prices. They really add up.
This is a big one. Want to pay more for your flight? Then don't--I repeat, don't--use a flexible-date search tool like the 30-day search window found on Hotwire's homepage or the 330-day search window at CheapAir.com. But if by chance you do want to see the cheapest days to fly and then plan your trip accordingly, take advantage of these flex-search tools before you commit to traveling on any specific days.
It's such a hassle searching for cheap flights, right? It's fine to keep putting it off until the last minute--assuming you don't mind paying through the nose when you do finally get around to it. Sure, sometimes people find a good deal at the last minute, but that's the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, the longer you wait, the more you pay. Start searching a few months before you fly. The sweet spot for finding a good fare is about six weeks ahead of departure.
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