Buying airline tickets online has become second nature for many travelers, but the process can be intimidating for a first-time user. There are scores of sites that promise to find the lowest price for you, and it can be hard to sort through all the options. A good place to begin is our Best Fares page. Below we have outlined some simple steps that will have you flying for less on your next trip.
To begin, it is a good idea to monitor fares periodically to get a good idea of the average selling price. Try searching for fares on routes you regularly travel even when you are not planning a trip. Some newspapers list the lowest published fares in their weekly travel sections. Check our Travel Sections page for more information.
When you need to buy a plane ticket, start at one of the major travel sites like Travelocity or Expedia. These sites allow you to search for flights on specific dates and times, or if your travel dates are flexible, they will show you the best prices for a range of dates. You can also specify the maximum number of connections you want to make, which airlines you prefer and which service class you would like. Of course, the more specific you are, the higher your price is likely to be. These sites are also a good tool for monitoring fares, as mentioned above. Registration is free.
Relatively new, meta search sites such as Kayak.com and Mobissimo gather all deals from airlines and other online ticket sellers and compare them to show you the best deal available.
If you're flexible, consider booking your fare at the last minute, when airlines often slash prices attempting to sell empty seats. You can find these deals on sites like Lastminute.com and Best Fares.com. If you would prefer to plan ahead of time, check out other deal sites like Travel Zoo and Cheap Tickets. If you belong to a frequent-flyer program and want to stick with a particular airline, check the special deals section of that airline's site. All of these options and more are available from our Best Fares page.
Online auction and reverse auction sites have added another dimension to finding airfare deals. The leader in this category is Priceline, a reverse auction site. Here's how it works: you post what you're willing to pay for a ticket and guarantee your bid with a credit-card number. If Priceline finds a match for you, you're locked into buying the ticket. The obvious benefit is naming your own price, but there is little flexibility in flight times and number of connections. A similar site is Hotwire, but unlike Priceline, you have 30 minutes to decide whether to buy or not.
Just like you'd vie for an antique vase on eBay, you can now bid on plane tickets too. Register (for free) with sites like SkyAuction.com and bid for airfare and full vacation packages. In most cases, you can either monitor the bidding yourself, or enter a maximum amount and the site will increase your bid according to the other bidders. For more options, check out our Travel Auctions page.
Finally, if you are looking for an international ticket and have a very flexible schedule, consider becoming a courier. You give up your baggage allowance to transport documents for a major courier company, and you pay rock-bottom prices for the tickets. Check out the International Association of Air Travel Couriers for more information. Recent bargain fares for couriers have included trips to Europe for under $245 and to Asia for $300! Some companies require couriers to be 21 years old.