Hunting for cheap airline tickets this summer? Good luck, says airline industry consultant Robert Mann. Carriers have trimmed their schedules, making “fire sales” less frequent, and the high cost of fuel that’s causing you pain at the pump is also hurting airlines.
“There’re frankly not a lot [of cheap flights] this summer, and the weather may make it tougher in the sense that when the weather rolls in, any seats that were previously empty will be absorbed by passengers who were re-routed,” Mann says.
But in spite of this gloomy prediction, it’s not impossible to find cheap airline tickets for your summer vacation. Mann offers a few pointers for travelers who are willing to be flexible — and a little adventurous — in exchange for an inexpensive seat.
First, set your alarm. Tuesday morning between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. (when businesses and travel agencies open) is the window of time when you’re most likely to find a low-priced fare. Mann says airlines tend to make their yield-management tweaks over the weekend, then roll them out early Tuesday.
Keep that alarm set. Flights that leave at the crack of dawn tend to be more reasonably priced than ones later in the day. As an added bonus, it’s likelier that an early flight will leave on time, since delays haven’t begun cascading through the day’s schedule. Late-night flights and red-eyes are also a perennial favorite of travelers in search of cheap airline tickets, but Mann suggests checking a particular flight’s on-time record before booking, since some routes are frequently subject to delays.
Don’t be too picky about where you go. “If you’re really just looking for beach, define that broadly,” Mann says. “Don’t focus on one particular beach destination. That generally gets you to some better opportunities.” Also, you can probably get a better deal if you’re willing to visit warmer destinations like Phoenix or Las Vegas during the dog days. “Similarly, think of some business destinations that are maybe a little easier to access in the summer,” Mann says.
Be patient. Airlines have reduced the number of seats available, but the flip side of that is that they need to fill as many as possible to make the math work in their favor. Some popular destinations might be sold out, but last-minute deals still exist. If you’re just looking for a getaway and don’t mind a little spontaneity, waiting until the last minute can pay off, Mann says.
Don’t rule out Europe. Airline alliances that reduce competition have driven up ticket prices to Europe this summer, Mann says. If you’ve been dying to visit Paris or Prague, though, look at the end of the summer for the best deals. Mann says the number of European tourists returning from the U.S. tends to peter out in late August, so you can find cheaper tickets on flights leaving from the U.S. Similarly, the number of Europeans traveling here hits a lull in the first two weeks of September, which will give you a better shot at finding a good price on a return ticket.
Martha C. White writes about consumer credit, debt and retail banking for TIME.com and previously contributed to AOL’s WalletPop.com. She has written about business, finance and the economy for outlets including Slate, the New York Times, MSNBC.com and Fast Company. A native of New Jersey and graduate of Princeton University, White resides in upstate New York.