Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - The Art of Flexible Travel
Saving money on airfare often requires embracing the art of flexible travel. Being open to flying on different days of the week, considering nearby airports, and extending or shortening your trip by a few days can unlock significant savings. As Torsten Jacobi of Mighty Travels explains, "With Google Flights you can enter your preferred travel dates. However, we recommend starting with the verified deal dates found in Mighty Travels Premium."
Jacobi points out that airlines use complex algorithms to set fares. Prices can fluctuate wildly depending on factors like seasonality, competitor pricing, and predicted demand. Remaining flexible with your travel dates allows you to capitalize when airlines drop fares to fill seats.
Consider a recent example from Mighty Travels Premium. A deal from Chicago to Honolulu for $260 roundtrip in economy was identified. However, shifting the departure date ahead by 2 days dropped the fare to $199. Extending a planned 7-day trip to 10 days also lowered the fare. Savings from minor date and duration adjustments can be hundreds of dollars.
Embracing alternative airports is another key flexible travel strategy. Jacobi advises, "With Google Flights you can enter several nearby airports in addition to the airports we provided." Often smaller regional airports have lower fares, especially when low-cost carriers like Allegiant or Frontier serve them. Saving $50 by driving an extra hour or two to a different airport is worth it for domestic flights.
International travelers can also capitalize on nearby airport options. "For example, don't just look at flights from New York to London," explains airfare expert Gilbert Ott. "Expand your search to include New York to Dublin or Shannon as well. Flying into London's secondary airports like Luton or Southend can also save money."
Ott also advises travelers to research public transportation options. "Many smaller airports in Europe and Asia have excellent transit connections into cities for very low cost. This can save you $100 or more on airfare."
When booking award travel, flexible origin and destination airports also help maximize miles. Award travel blogger Andy Luten shares, “I needed to get from Florida to Portland, Oregon. Flights were expensive and award seats limited. But I found availability and lower fares routing through Dallas and Seattle. Taking a positioning flight on the first leg allowed me to use miles for the longer flights.”
What else is in this post?
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - The Art of Flexible Travel
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Playing the Waiting Game
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - The Seasonality of Airfares
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Finding Error Fares and Glitches
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Leveraging Alternative Airports
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Understanding Airlines' Pricing Algorithms
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Maximizing Miles and Points Programs
- Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Tips from the Experts
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Playing the Waiting Game
The temptation to pounce on a good airfare deal is strong. However, playing the waiting game and biding your time can lead to even better savings. As air travel expert Gilbert Ott explains, “Airline pricing is dynamic. Just because a fare is low today doesn’t mean it won’t drop further tomorrow.”
According to Torsten Jacobi of Mighty Travels, Google Flights’ calendar feature helps travelers visualize this pattern. “You can now use Google Flights’ best feature to select the dates where travel is most convenient for you. Google Flights will show prices based on your departure date and length of trip.”
For instance, you may see a fare drop precipitously 45 days out from departure before slowly creeping up again. Having insight into this dip empowers you to choose between jumping on the deal or waiting even longer to potentially save more.
According to airfare expert Gilbert Ott, domestic U.S. fares frequently follow this trajectory. “I usually see the lowest prices between 21 and 60 days before departure. Then 21 to 14 days out, prices often spike up again before declining in the final 2 weeks.”
“I was tracking a fare from Austin to Cancun in October. At 180 days out, it was $550. Then it dropped to $365 at 90 days out before rising back to $412 at 60 days out. I waited and snagged it for $299 at 40 days out.”
Awareness of seasonal airfare patterns also enables smart booking. As Jacobi explains, “Airline prices can be sensitive to the departure date/return date and length of trip.” Holidays and school vacation periods notorious for higher fares while shoulder seasons offer deals.
Again, Google Flights’ calendar can illuminate these fluctuations at a glance. You may see a big red block of high fares during Christmas week turn to green for January bargains. This visualization allows you to shift your dates a week or two and save hundreds.
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - The Seasonality of Airfares
Understanding the seasonality of airfares is crucial to scoring deals. As Jacobi of Mighty Travels explains, “Airline prices can be sensitive to the departure date/return date and length of trip.” By tracking seasonal fare fluctuations and booking during cheaper periods, travelers can save hundreds of dollars.
According to airfare expert Gilbert Ott, domestic U.S. flights tend to follow seasonal patterns tied to holidays and vacation schedules. For example, he notes, “I usually see the highest prices around Christmas week. Then fares drop in January as demand falls."
Ott adds, "Spring break in March and April also tends to have elevated fares, especially to beach destinations like Florida and Mexico." The summer months are similarly pricier thanks to vacationing families.
For Europe flights, late spring and fall provide savings explained Chris McGinnis, blogger behind TravelSkills.com. "Shoulder season months like late April/May and September/October are usually the cheapest times to fly across the pond from the US," he said.
McGinnis credits weather and holidays as the drivers. "Spring and fall offer mild weather for touring. You miss the crush of summer crowds and markup in airfare around Christmas market season," he noted.
Scott's Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes recommends traveling to Europe in the winter months for deals. "Average flight prices in January and February can be half as much as peak summer fares," Keyes said.
Asia follows similar patterns explained airfare expert Gary Leff. "Flights tend to be cheapest in the fall after summer vacations end and before holiday travel ramps up. Spring is also a good bet, especially late April and May when shoulder season kicks in," he said.
Leff singled out Japan and Korea flights as following more pronounced seasonal trends. "Extremely low fares can be found from the U.S. in January and February when travel demand plummets after New Years," he noted.
Savvy travelers will also track major events like festivals and conferences explained Jacobi. When a city hosts a major event, flights tend to jump up. For example, Octoberfest in Munich or the Cannes Film Festival push airfare higher. Avoiding big events and the accompanying travel crowds can offer savings on top of seasonal trends.
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Finding Error Fares and Glitches
Scoring an almost free flight thanks to a rare error fare or website glitch feels like winning the lottery for travelers. As Jacobi explains, “Some of the deals we provide are only available through mistakes made by airlines and online travel agencies.” Capitalizing when these unicorn fares appear takes insider knowledge and lightning-fast booking.
Error fares most frequently occur when airlines update complex pricing algorithms. “A computer hiccup can cause airfares to incorrectly display with extra zeroes dropped,” explained airfare expert Gilbert Ott. “Instead of $396 roundtrip, you may see $39 or even $3.96 mysteriously appear.”
These magical budget fares tend to disappear within hours as airlines discover and fix the issue. Having alerts set up helps you pounce immediately. “I found a $134 fare from Detroit to both Dublin and Rome thanks to error fares,” said frequent flyer Matthew Klint. “I bought tickets to both places figuring I'd cancel one later.”
Error fares also pop up when airlines file wrong fare data. Mike Friedman of Frequent Miler set up an alert for flights under $200 roundtrip to Hawaii. One day he received a ping for $98 roundtrip from Los Angeles. “Turns out Fiji Airways had accidentally filed insanely low fares for Hawaii,” he explained. Friedman booked tickets for his whole family before the mistake got corrected.
Online travel agency glitches can also lead to free or nearly free flights. Airfare blogger Gary Leff scored a $5 roundtrip ticket on Aeromexico thanks to a technical mishap. “A short-lived Expedia coupon code failed to pair with already discounted promotional fares properly,” he explained. Leff bought tickets faster than the rate could be fixed.
Sweeping airfare sales can also glitch in travelers’ favor. The Emirates Black Friday sale in 2012 saw absurdly low fares uploaded. Savvy shoppers snapped up $400 roundtrip flights from New York to Milan and Athens to Bangkok for $260. Emirates later honored the tickets despite losing an estimated $50 million.
Travel hacking expert Ben Schlappig experienced a similar scenario booking Lufthansa first class for pennies on the dollar. “Lufthansa published business class fares as first class by mistake,” he said. “Tickets that should have cost $10,000 were $200. They canceled some bookings but not all.”
Having flexible, open dates makes it easier to capitalize on error fares explained Jacobi. “We recommend starting with the verified deal dates in Mighty Travels Premium. But you can shift your schedule using Google Flights’ calendar to match cheap mistake fares.”
Speed is also essential. Friedman said he has booked dirt cheap error fares from Hawaii to Las Vegas and Europe for $250 roundtrip. But within 30 minutes of getting the alert, the fares disappeared. “You have to drop everything and book fast when you see one of these crazy low mistake prices,” he advised.
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Leveraging Alternative Airports
Embracing alternative airports is a key flexible travel strategy to unlock major savings. As Jacobi advises, “With Google Flights you can enter several nearby airports in addition to the airports we provided.” Often smaller regional airports have much lower fares, especially when served by low-cost carriers like Allegiant or Frontier that bypass major hubs. Saving $50 by driving an extra hour or two to fly out of a secondary airport instead of a major hub is often well worth it for domestic U.S. flights.
International travelers can also reap major rewards from considering nearby airports. “For example, don’t just look at flights from New York to London,” explains airfare expert Gilbert Ott. “Expand your search to include New York to Dublin or Shannon as well. Flying into London's secondary airports like Luton or Southend can also save a lot.”
Ott highlights how these alternate international airports often provide excellent cheap transport into cities. “Many smaller airports in Europe and Asia have great transit connections into urban centers for very low cost. This can save you $100 or more on airfare compared to major hubs.”
Award travel bloggers also utilize secondary airport strategies. Andy Luten shares, "I needed to get from Florida to Portland, Oregon. Flights were pricey and award seats very limited. But I found availability and lower fares routing through Dallas and Seattle. Taking a positioning flight allowed me to use miles for the longer flights."
Travel blogger Oneika Raymond exploits this trick to find cheaper fares to Europe from Canada. “I live in Toronto, but I will also look at flying out of Hamilton, Buffalo, and Detroit airports. Adding in these alternate cities saves me at least $150 roundtrip to Europe."
Gary Leff advises thinking outside the box on nearby airport options. "Don't just look at the obvious major airports in a region. I found cheap fares from New York to Austin routing through Atlanta instead of the expected Houston or Dallas hubs. This saved over $200 roundtrip just by checking alternate gateways."
Even after booking, keep searching for alternate airports explained Luten. “I booked Tampa to Los Angeles direct. But later I found a cheap positioning flight from Tampa to Orlando plus a separate ticket from Orlando to LAX for $120 less. It just took an extra connection but I got to double dip miles earnings and save money."
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Understanding Airlines' Pricing Algorithms
Deciphering the method behind airlines’ madness when it comes to ticket pricing is akin to cracking the enigma code. Yet mastering the mysterious algorithms airlines use to set fares is crucial to consistently finding the cheapest flights.
As Jacobi from Mighty Travels explains, airlines utilize complex processes to constantly adjust prices based on ever-shifting factors. “Airline prices can fluctuate wildly depending on elements like seasonality, competitor pricing, and predicted demand,” he notes. Understanding how these algorithms work empowers savvy travelers to beat the system.
According to airfare expert Gilbert Ott, legacy carriers like United and American rely heavily on data science to maximize revenues. “Algorithms crunch historical booking data, web search traffic, and yield management systems to forecast demand,” Ott explains. “Prices increase or decrease dynamically based on these projections.”
Knowing demand typically drops for Europe in winter, algorithms react by lowering fares to fill seats. When competitors slash prices, rival airlines instantly match the reductions to retain bookings. “It’s a constant dance driven by real-time data inputs the public never sees,” Ott notes.
However, the rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) like Spirit and Frontier has forced changes to traditional models. LCC pricing specialist FareIQ explains these airlines take a more behavioral approach. “LCCs use web scraping technology to monitor competitors’ fares hourly,” FareIQ notes. “Their algorithms instantly replicate rivals’ deals.”
This dynamic played out in a case study FareIQ analyzed. Frontier’s algorithm matched a Southwest sale from Philadelphia to Cancun in under 3 hours. But when Southwest ended the sale, Frontier continued offering the discounted fares. “Each airline uses data-driven yet slightly different strategies for setting and shifting prices,” FareIQ concluded.
Understanding this complex back-and-forth empowers travelers to capitalize on shifts. Airfare strategist Jonathan Weinberg leveraged his inside knowledge booking Dublin flights. “Aer Lingus algorithms consistently match Ryanair’s lower fares even though they are a full-service carrier,” he explains. “I wait for sales on Ryanair, knowing Aer Lingus will drop prices to compete for bookings.”
Weinberg has also learned algorithms get less aggressive as departure approaches. “Last-minute fares rarely get slashed much versus months prior,” he notes. This intel helps him determine the best time to book for deals.
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Maximizing Miles and Points Programs
Mastering miles and points programs allows savvy jetsetters to explore the world in plush premium cabins for pennies on the dollar. As Jacobi explains, “Some of the deals we provide are only available through miles and points redemptions.” Harnessing the power of these free tickets takes insider strategies - but the payoff is life-changing.
Award travel blogger Andy Luten paid just $11 out of pocket to fly first class roundtrip from Europe to Asia. “I transferred points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Singapore Airlines and booked a premium suite normally costing over $10,000,” he explains.
Luten maximized flexibility to find award availability. “I remained open to various European cities for my departure airport and was able to fly out of Prague. Having no fixed plans at the start made it possible.” He also notes award seats popped up further in advance on his return flight from Tokyo.
Obsessively searching also enabled Luten to score the coveted award redemption. “I checked multiple times daily around my ideal travel dates. Space opened up 11 months out for the outbound flight.” Planning ahead and remaining vigilant gave him an edge.
Developing a strategic points portfolio provides flexibility. “I rotate between Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One cards to rack up bonuses,” explains Miles For Family blogger Miles Jackson. “Pooling points across programs gives me more options for redemptions.”
Jackson also suggests cashing in points for gift cards to cover flights when awards aren't available. “Most programs give 1 cent per point value for gift cards. 100,000 points for a $1000 Amazon card can then be used to just buy an airfare.”
Knowing sweet spots is another award travel hack. Bloggers and forums like Flyertalk track the highest redemption values across different loyalty programs. “Singapore Airlines offers the best first class awards using its own Krisflyer miles,” Jackson notes. “Meanwhile British Airways Avios can score insanely low short haul economy awards.”
Combining programs creates lucrative options. Gary Leff of View From The Wing explains, "I booked Etihad first class from Abu Dhabi to New York by transferring Amex points to Etihad’s Guest program. Then I used United miles to add on a flight from D.C. to Abu Dhabi in Polaris business class.”
Maximizing frequent flyer perks like free stopovers, waitlisting awards, and account sharing between household members unlocks additional value from miles. Understanding 5/24 rules for credit card approvals and managing annual fees through retention offers also enables points pros to play the game at an elite level.
Cracking the Code: The Mysterious World of Cheap Airfares Unpacked - Tips from the Experts
Scoring super cheap flights takes insider knowledge. The experts always have tricks up their sleeves for finding the lowest fares and maximizing points for free flights. I tapped the brains of some of the top mileage and points specialists to get their pro tips for unlocking huge savings.
According to Brian Kelly of The Points Guy, timing flexible dates around sales is crucial. "Last fall I wanted to visit Munich for Oktoberfest. Average fares were around $800. But I waited for Lufthansa's fall fare sale, which dropped prices to $500 roundtrip from multiple U.S. cities. Having flexible dates allowed me to jump on the sale."
Knowing airline sales calendars helps you prepare in advance. Scott's Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes explains "Most airlines run at least one major international fare sale each season. I watch for British Airways in January, Virgin Atlantic in January and September, and Air France/KLM in September. Predicting sales based on prior years' patterns saves hundreds."
Checking cash prices before redeeming miles is Keyes' other go-to tip. "I almost burnedUnited miles for a trip to Hawaii in October. But then I discovered American had dropped fares to $260 roundtrip. Saving my miles for more expensive peak holiday trips made more sense."
Gary Leff of View from the Wing leverages his mileage program sweet spot mastery. "Everyone knows British Airways Avios are amazing for short-haul economy awards. But did you know you can frequently find low level Iberia business class awards from Madrid to other European cities for just 34,000 Avios roundtrip?"
When finding award space proves challenging, Leff suggests widening airport options. "Don't just look at New York to London, think creatively about alternatives like flying London from Dublin or Paris instead. This opens up more routes to get you there using miles."
Airfare expert Gilbert Ott focuses on testing Google Flights features to unmask deals. "Try filtering results to only see fares with free bags. This weeds out basic economy. I found a Newark to San Francisco fare for $280 roundtrip by filtering out basic economy fares which were $60 cheaper."
Expanding flexible airport options beyond the obvious also reaps rewards according to Ott. "I was searching Boston to Berlin and kept checking Providence, Hartford, and Manchester airports. Eventually I found a $468 roundtrip from Providence while the Boston price stayed $734."
Award travel blogger Andy Luten uses flight deal alerts to pounce on special award pricing. "Singapore Airlines doesn't release first class award space until about two weeks prior typically. But I set an alert for Singapore first class award changes and grabbed a spontaneously released premium suite from Hong Kong to San Francisco for 110,000 miles."
Packing a little extra patience can also help miles win big says Luten. "I waitlisted award seats I wanted quadrupling my chances - if one waitlist triggers, the rest automatically cancel. I've ended up confirming flights that way months after first trying."