The "Best Airfare" Conundrum
Some of you remember back in the day when flying was a gigantic luxury. The cost of airfare kept most American families out of the air and stuck to vacations within driving distance. Then, as the economy changed, flying became more and more of a feasible way to get you from point A to B. Because of that, slowly but surely flying became an ordinary thing for travelers and now it is something that everyone treats as a commodity on the open market. "How cheap can I get it?" That is now the standard measuring stick someone uses when looking to fly.
Article after article are being written about how you can attempt to get the cheapest price out there. Some will tell you to make sure you buy on a Tuesday or a Thursday or try logging on a different computer in case the airline knows you were looking at that flight previously. Some will tell you to fly on certain days in order to get a better fare (I will come back to flying on certain days in a minute). And other "experts" will try to tell you to wait 60 days to buy before your trip or some other amount of time before you are wanting to fly.
But here is something that is very important when it comes to waiting or looking for cheaper airfare etc.; what if the flight you really wanted is sold out after you waited to see if airfare is getting any cheaper? What if you really wanted to leave on a Thursday, but those flights are gone and now you are leaving on a Friday? What if your 6 night vacation just got shortened to a 5 night vacation because seats sold out?
The "how to get cheap airfare" articles never ever address the issue of sold out flights. They also never address the issue of double connections or terrible layovers.
The majority of the traveling public will not want sit in an airport for 6 hours because that long layover saved the person $30. The majority of our clients do not want to leave at 5am and arrive at their destination at 9pm because they left one airport, flew to another with a 3 hour layover, flew to another one with a 3 hour layover and then finally on to their destination. But that all day-double connecting flight may have been the cheapest by $30-$40 each way. Is the extra $60 to $80 worth it if you have to spend $20 to $40 for airport food because you traveled all day and on flights where there was no food service? Is that extra savings worth the chance that your luggage may get lost between points A to D? We professionals say no it is not. We say there are more factors at play when deciding on what airline to fly and how much the ticket is going to cost.
So when looking at airfare, here are the criteria WE use for our clients when it comes to the air portion of their vacation:
1) How early can we get you to your destination? Our theory is to get you relaxed in a pool chair or hammock as quickly as possible. Early morning departures with single connections and shorter layovers usually accomplish just that. Early departures also allow for mishaps such as weather delays, mechanical issues etc. If you are taking the last flight out because it is the cheapest, you have no room for mishaps and may end up spending the night in the airport.
2) How long is the layover? We prefer an hour to 2 hours. Anything shorter has the traveler at risk of missing a connection. Anything longer than 2 hours is overkill and not preferable.
3) Where is the connecting city? If you are flying in the winter, connecting in Dallas may be better than connecting in Chicago or Detroit. If you are flying internationally, we know which airports have the better customs set-up and which ones do not. Miami is horrific (generally) when it comes to getting through customs. Dallas on the other hand seems to have theirs more organized and streamlined. So connecting cities matter.
4) Are you flexible when it comes to schedule? I mentioned above that I would come back to this. Flying on a Tuesday or Thursday may be preferable simply because the airports tend to be less crowded. Forget the idea that it might be cheaper to fly on certain days. I like to fly on certain days for the sake of possible shorter security lines and check in lines. Sundays, Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays tend to be more crowded due to business and leisure travel. So regardless of being cheaper or not, days of the week can make for a better overall travel experience.
5) Do you have a frequent flier account? United may be $50 cheaper than American, but you may have a frequent flier account with American and this next trip may give you enough miles for a free airline ticket on your next vacation. So spending that extra $50 may end up saving you $500.
So again...none of the above is ever discussed in the "How to get cheap airfare" articles. No one walks into a clothing store and says, "I want the cheapest pair of pants you have. I don't care about how they fit, what they look like etc. I just want the cheapest." Yet so many treat their travel plans this way, especially when it comes to airfare.
So there you have it. You now have our airfare advice and we didn't have to write some complicated computer program to help you figure it all out.