Whenever I shop for low airfares, I use a short five step process to give me confidence that I will be getting low prices, while ensuring the flight times and duration are comfortable.
I have five steps because I live in a small town, with a population of 60,000. If you live in a bigger city, there are more airlines and frequent schedules to provide you with even better prices. For me, I have to work harder to find cheap flights.
Here are the easy five steps:
1. If I do not mind where my destination is, I start by using Google Flight Search because it shows me flight prices at various cities. The interactive map, which I could zoom in and out, gives me a sense of which routes offer lower prices.
2. Once I have narrowed down specific destinations, my next step is to decide which dates will give me the best prices, as different dates will have prices that could vary in hundreds of dollars. To do this, I use ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search. ITA Software was purchased by Google, and ITA Software is the search engine for many of other travel sites that you may be using.
Here are some tips to use this free tool:
– Select “See calendar of lowest fares”;
– Pick the departure day;
– Enter a range of stay in days; for example “10-14″ means 10 to 14 nights; and
– Click on “Learn more” for more information on what to type for “Sales city.”
This is a screenshot of a sample round-trip from Comox to San Francisco, departing on July 1, 2014 or later. The range of stays is 10 to 14 nights.
Next, hover your mouse on each calendar day, and you will see different prices depending on the range of stays. For example, if I hover my mouse over July 4, 2014, I would see that to get the lowest airfare of $515, the number of stays is 13 nights.
Click on the specific prices that you like, and you will get a list of flight schedules. Please note that you cannot book your flights through ITA Software, as it is just a search engine. I would copy the flight details and then book my flights using another site.
3. Sometimes, the lowest airfares may not be ideal because of long layovers or inconvenient departure and arrival times. For me, it may be worthwhile to spend a little more, so that I can arrive to a destination with energy to start exploring. There may be occasions in which a red eye flight will save me a night of hotel stay.
Therefore, to be sure that the lowest price is still comfortable to me, I would use Hipmunk. Hipmunk uses a simple, graphical timetable to show departure and arrival times. Plus, they have a feature to sort by “agony,” which is an optimal combination of price, duration and number of stops.
[click to continue…]