Book Early for Cheap Flights
Usually, plane tickets jump in price during the final three weeks before departure. Booking as soon as possible is one of the easiest ways to ensure you will get the lowest price. You should be able to secure the best rates if you book within three months to 30 days from departure.
Also, if you use a travel search engine like Google Flights or Kayak, they have a price predictor algorithm that analyzes historical price trends to help predict if ticket prices will increase, decrease, or remain the same. These predictions are not 100% accurate, but, they are usually pretty good as they crunch the numbers on thousands of different routes.
Another reason to book early is to ensure you get the seat you want, especially for peak season flights. You may pay the same price for a seat that's next to the bathroom and one at the front of the cabin. If you wait too long book a desirable seat, you will need to pay the extra money to for a "premium" seat.
Set Price Alerts
By looking for flights early, you are not required to buy a flight today because you prices will only go up if you wait until the last minute to buy. If you're not ready to buy a ticket today, you can set a price alert that will notify you when a ticket price increases or decreases. Ticket prices can fluctuate on a daily basis, even a small drop can result in a large savings if you need to buy a ticket for each member of your family.
Another way to save money is by having flexible travel plans. Two of the easiest ways to find cheap flights is to fly mid-week or on the actual holiday (i.e. Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day) since fewer people travel on these days. You might also consider flying to a different airport, for example, flying into Tampa instead of Orlando can save you $30 a ticket. The alternate airport or travel dates might not be an option, but, flexibility is one of the easiest ways to lower your airfare costs.
Book a Connecting Flight
If you aren't in a hurry to get to your final destination, booking a connecting flight can be cheaper than a non-stop flight. The search engines will let you filter flight itineraries by non-stop, 1 stop, and 2+ stops. Even flying mixed carriers might be able to save you some cash as well.
Consider Discount Airlines
While a major airline can get you just about anywhere, the cost can also be notably more. These airlines can help you save money on domestic and international flights:
Southwest Airlines (U.S. and Caribbean)
JetBlue (U.S. and Caribbean)
Alaska Airlines (U.S. West Coast and Hawaii)
Norwegian (U.S. to Europe)
Use More Than One Travel Portal
Before you book directly from the carrier, you should also compare prices with at least one third-party booking site. Sometimes, the better deal can be found from a third-party site. There are many different ones to choose from, but, three of the best are Momondo, Google Flights, and Priceline.
Momondo is probably the most comprehensive portal as it analyzes the prices of over 30 travel portals and carrier websites. They also have excellent research tools which make it easy to find cheap routes. And, they list the prices of Southwest Airlines flight which most do not.
Browse Airline Specials
If you're going to wait until the final weeks to book, you might be able to find some last-minute deals directly from the carrier.
This option can be hit or miss as it depends on how badly the carrier wants to sell any remaining seats. Or, if they recently launched a new route and are trying to generate interest. The good part is that these specials don't always require you to fly a redeye flight just to save a few bucks!
Use an Airline Credit Card to Avoid Baggage Fees
If you need to check a bag, most airline rewards cards will let you waive the baggage fees for at least one traveling companion. The Delta Amex credit cards will let you check up to nine bags for free. The only two stipulations are you must book a flight directly with the carrier and use that credit card to pay for the flight. No problem, right?
Use Award Miles
If you would rather spend miles than cash, or maybe a combination of the two, miles can be most valuable when redeemed for expensive cash flights. There are many different award flight options as you can pool your points from a co-branded airline miles credit card like one of the Southwest credit cards with the points you earn from the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You can redeem your miles through the credit card travel portal or transfer them to your airline loyalty program to top-off your balance and book a flight directly from the carrier.
Here's a small bonus tip. If you do have to book an award flight at the last-minute, a good option can be Delta because they do not charge a "close-in" for award flights.
Use Your Credit Card Travel Credits
Not only do you earn bonus points with each airline purchase that can be redeemed for future award flights, but, you might also be able to use credit card benefits like your $200 air travel credit to pay for baggage fees and in-flight purchases with the Platinum Card from American Express while you earn 5 points per $1 on airfare purchases.
Plus, the complimentary airport lounge access and Global Entry fee reimbursement can also help you enjoy a few fringe benefits if you have a long layover (lounges) or want to skip the long security lines (Global Entry) when returning to the U.S.