Airfare Basics – Your Crash Course on When, Where and How to Book Cheap Airfare

We’re brand new. Check back soon for more information as we populate the site. Have tips and suggestions of your own?  Please share them – we’d love to incorporate them into the site. has a simple charter. Basic Airfare information in an easy, free, single page, categorically sorted format. Knowledge is power. Unfortunately, with all the information on the web knowing where to look can make finding that knowledge almost impossible. We’ll do our best to not only answer the basic questions we know every flyer has, we’ll also tell you experienced traveler’s favorite resources and where to look for in-depth information as you need it. This site is about empowering you as the traveler.

Where To Book || When To Book || Finding Airlines || Budget Airline 101 || Frequent Flyer Programs || Airport Resources || Discount Airfare Resource Sites || Luggage

Where To Book

Finding the right airfare is as much about knowing where to book as when. To aid in this process there are a variety of portals and tools which do most of the work for you.  I’ve included some of my favorites below but you can find a more comprehensive list over at our sister site the Travel Resource List. Keep in mind that which site(s) are best for you depend on your country of origin.  You should also keep in mind that most airfare aggregation sites only have partnerships with a limited number of airlines.  These often exclude budget and smaller regional airlines which may be offering the best flights.

  • Kayak – Powerful airfare search portal. Allows flexible searches/daily e-mail alerts (You can now search Student Universe fares through Kayak).
  • ITA Software – Registration is required. Plug into the source for most airline airfare searches, via the ITA Software interface.  It’s a bit crude but can be very useful.
  • Hipmunk – Airfare search aggregator dedicated to providing a better user experience. Unique visual interface. Very progressively minded dev. team.
  • Sidestep Buzz – Owned by Kayak. Allows open ended price oriented searches for flexible travel.
  • – Powered by discount deal finder TravelZoo. A powerful airfare search portal.
  • Bing Travel – Powerful airfare search portal. Gives quality price predictions for domestic flights.
  • Orbitz – Airfare search portal. Very flexible search options (month grid, etc.). Excellent for flexible travelers.
  • Priceline – A booking/bidding service similar to Orbitz but with the “Name your own price” bidding option.
  • Mobissimo – A comprehensive airfare search engine.
  • Momondo – Another up and coming airfare search engine.
  • Hotwire – Comprehensive airfare search engine with great flexible search options.
  • OneTravel – Airfare search engine.
  • Farecompare – A budget oriented airfare search engine.
  • SkyScanner – A very popular Euro-centered airfare search engine.

When To Book

There are two major factors that impact ticket price and are time centric.  These are which days to book on and how far in advance you need to book.  Typically you’ll find the best prices when booking at least three weeks in advance. Prices are based predominantly on scarcity.  The closer a flight gets to the date of departure, the fewer seats and the higher the cost.  While prices may dip last minute due to the addition of another aircraft, or a wealth of unfilled space – this can be a very risky gamble. If you know you have to make the trip, don’t risk it. If it’s merely a possibility you’re considering, then feel free to take the gamble.

The best days to fly still tend to be mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) and Saturdays. Many airfare search sites now offer the chance for flexible searches. Ideally select Wednesday with at least a  +/- three day window.  Others offer the ability to search across multiple weeks in a matrix format.  If you’re able to add a day or two on the front or back end of a flight this can save you a significant amount of money.

While some commuter routes tend to have fairly stable costs, many flights fluctuate significantly from day to day. Especially within the 2 month period leading up to the flight.  Material I’ve read suggests that Fridays and weekends are the most expensive times to actually make your ticket purchase.  Several resources are available to help you monitor the price of your ticket.  Two of my favorites are Kayak’s daily e-mail alerts and Bing’s Price Predictor (US and Canada only).

Another key factor is major city events, holidays and vacation periods.  Keep in mind that the city you’re flying into may be hosting a major conference or famous event.  For example Oktoberfest in Munich or the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Other unexpected price influencers are national holidays – remember that just because

Another key factor is major city events, holidays and vacation periods.  Keep in mind that the city you’re flying into may be hosting a major conference or famous event.  For example Oktoberfest in Munich or the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Other unexpected price influencers are national holidays – remember that just because

Budget Airline 101

The best way to approach booking airfare on a budget airline is to look at it as a game while keeping expectations realistic.  On the one hand you’re presented with the opportunity to score incredibly cheap tickets.  On the flip side, the airline is simultaneously trying to draw you in with cheap specials and then make their profits on secondary fees, overage charges, and travelers who wait too long or who are inflexible.

The key to being a happy budget airline user is to make sure you know the airlines rules, especially concerning luggage size and weigh, while keeping your expectations realistic.  If you’re paying less than the cost of a nice meal for your international flight – remember that your expectations should be more on par with a city bus ride vs. a luxury limo ride. Another key aspect, however, to using budget airlines is knowing when to use them and when you’re better off using a traditional airline. This depends on personal travel preference, how much luggage you’re using, how close you are to your departure date, and what your travel time limitations are.

One of the ways that budget airlines keep their prices down is by flying in/out of low tax/fee rural airports. While this is good for rates, it means you need to pay close attention to the airport that you’ll be flying to/from.  Budget powerhouse RyanAir is famous for having airports which can be more than an hour outside the city.  While they always make sure that affordable budget transport is available to get you into the city, this is usually an added expense and can take longer than some travelers are prepared for.

Non-Budget Discount Airfare Specialty Sites

The following websites focus on providing alerts and/or offering discount tickets to students, youths and educational professionals.  While the practice is constantly evolving, some airlines still offer youth/student tickets for individuals under 26.  Others offer discounts to students and educators.

  • Airfare Watchdog – Allows you to search for airfare specials by city.
  • TravelZoo Top 20 – A targeted weekly list of 20 excellent travel deals, including airfare specials.
  • Last Minute – An aggregation site socializing in last minute travel deals.
  • STA Travel – A student themed airfare search engine.  Specials are usually good. General prices merit research.
  • Student Universe – A student themed airfare search engine. General prices merit research.

Finding Airlines

Use Wikipedia to research which airlines fly out of an airport (Example: London Heathrow).  Keep in mind that while destinations are often listed in Wikipedia, the results are seldom exhaustive.  Many airports also list this data on their websites (Example: Phoenix Sky Harbor).  Once you have a list of airports using the airport you’re considering flying through, you can then check their individual websites for specials and flight availability.

Another option for researching Airlines is to use useful websites like Which Budget which are assembling a fantastic list of budget airlines, searchable by airport.  Simply plug in your departing city and destination and enjoy a fairly comprehensive list of connecting airlines.

Frequent Flyer Programs

These programs are constantly evolving.  Luckily there are a series of fantastic websites set up to guide you through the process, share recent changes in the industry, and suggest ways to maximize your use.  To get the most out of a frequent flyer program, make sure to focus on using the benefits that go with the program in addition to cashing in your miles for free flights and upgrades.  It’s also worth noting that many users with good credit are also taking advantage of frequent flyer card bonuses on new credit card signups.  While users should use extreme care, it’s possible to front-load your mileage account and to get free flights. Useful websites included:

  • Flyer Talk – The web’s most popular frequent flyer community.
  • WebFlyer – A go-to resource for deals, specials and recent news in the airline mileage/frequent flyer industry.
  • ExpertFlyer – A site focused on flight rewards and upgrade programs.


One of the quickest growing sources of revenue for airlines is luggage fees.  While it is still usually free to board with one personal item and one piece of small luggage some airlines (such as the budget airline Spirit) have started charging hefty fees.  Luckily, most have remained content to focus their fees exclusively on checked luggage.  It’s important that you take an airline’s luggage weight and size policies seriously as a failure to do so can result in heft added costs which in some cases (especially on budget airlines) quickly surpass the original ticket price.

Airport Resources

  • To and From the Airport – Comprehensive site with information on how to get to/from the airport.
  • Kayak Explore – Don’t care where you’re going? See airfare to major airports by price range.
  • FlightStats – Very useful tool for checking Airport and Airline on-time statistics, with ratings for specific legs to/from specific airports. Know what to expect.
  • The Art of Travel: Cheap Airfare – A wonderful guide with links to airfare resources.
  • How Many Hours – Know how long flights take and how many miles are covered.
  • The Layover Guide – Have a long layover? This site has airport guides.
  • Seat Guru – Airline based database of plane configurations.  Helps make sure you chose the right seat.
  • Seat Expert – Know what seats are available.  Offers the ability to search by airline/flight number.
  • Sleeping in Airports – The ultimate guide to sleeping in airports.
  • The Air DB – Fairly comprehensive list, can be used to identify which airlines from from an airport/where they fly to.
  • Upgrade: Travel Better- A travel resource focused on providing information on how to get upgrades and make the system work for you.
  • Yapta – A ticket price tracking site.  Allows you to track prices both before and after you purchase your flight. Also has options to help you get frequent flyer credits, etc.


This site is still under construction.   A lot will be added over the next month.  Please check back regularly and feel free to ask more pressing questions on twitter via @AlexBerger.

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