Yes, airfare has gotten more expensive since Covid, BUT industry reports are showing that fares are actually lower this summer than last (considering inflation.) They’re calling it a “period of renormalization,” meaning fares will continue to surge during popular travel times (i.e., summer), but there are also plenty of deals to be found if you want to save on airfare – especially off-peak!

A ton of factors influence the cost of a plane ticket, so when people ask me how to save on airfare, I’m all too willing to help them – but I tend to find they’re not so much looking for strategy as they are looking for a magic solution. (Like some secret hidden website that has airfare at a super sale price only I know about, maybe…?)

Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but the answer is is strategy and research. It doesn’t need to consume that much of your time, but you do need to be willing to get creative and consider alternatives if you really want to save on airfare. If you don’t want to put in a little extra work, a few more clicks, and just want to buy something now – well, time is money and you’re going to pay for it. Just being honest. 😉

That said, here are some great ways to strategize and save on airfare!

1. Be flexible with your dates

I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before right? I understand you can’t always be flexible with your dates, especially when the kids are out of school and you have limited time to take a vacation, or if you’re trying to get somewhere for a specific event. The busiest season of the year for travel is summer, so while it’s ideal to plan your trips in spring and fall, obviously you don’t always have control over this. However, if you’re looking to plan a vacation and you do have some flexibility, consider these points:

  • When looking for airfare, check out a matrix of the month you want to travel. Many search engines have this feature, which will allow you to see the lowest prices of the month (I personally love Google Flights’ matrix and fare alerts!) Book those dates if you can.
  • Set fare alerts (see note about Google Flights above) well ahead of time.
  • Flying mid-week is almost always cheaper than weekends.
  • Book in the second half of May and the first half of September (if you can) if you want to take a summer trip; these are less crowded than June-August, especially for popular family destinations like Hawaii, Florida, and California.

2. Book during the “Goldilocks Window”

Book during the “just right” timeframe: flight prices fluctuate constantly, but to really save on airfare, the sweet spot for domestic U.S. travel tends to be 1-3 months in advance and 2-8 months in advance for international travel. This is when you’re most likely to find the cheapest fares. Again, you can use Google Flights for this – it offers insight to the route and dates you’re searching and will advise you whether the current fares are above average, below average, or in the average range (and advise you whether to wait or book now.)

On that note, set 3 weeks in advance (21 days) as your absolute final deadline to book. Fares will only get higher from that point on. Why? Because airlines jack up the prices last minute to take advantage of business travelers’ last-minute schedules – and their companies’ money.

Related: Best Resources For Finding Flight Deals

3. Remember the “Greek Islands” trick

This trick involves flying as close to your final destination as possible, then taking a different mode of transportation the rest of the way there. (Or the same in reverse!) e.g., If flights in/out of JFK are crazy expensive, look up flights in/out of Boston or D.C. and consider taking a train there to cut costs.

For Europe in particular, this can be an excellent method – however, depending on the country, train fares can be just as expensive as airfare. In this case, it’s usually cheaper to stick to the major international routes (i.e., LAX to London, JFK to Rome, etc.), then jump on a budget carrier like RyanAir or EasyJet to get to the final city. You’ll have to do a little research to compare travel time with the money saved and decide whether it’s worth it, but I’ve done this many, many times to save hundreds of dollars.

4. Go budget if you have to fly last-minute

On that note, if you have no choice but to travel last-minute (whether domestically or internationally), consider a *shudder* budget carrier like Spirit or Frontier. I know, I’d personally rather fly on the wing of a Delta flight than inside a Spirit Airlines plane, but budget carriers typically don’t hike their prices up as much as major airlines do in the eleventh hour because business travelers aren’t flying them. The one exception to this “rule” is Southwest Airlines, because they shuttle a lot of business travelers around the country.

5. Book for next season now to save on airfare

For example, I’m posting this in early June 2024, and post-Labor Day fares are still downright cheap. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a “good deal” on a flight for this summer at this point, but fall 2024 is a) off-season, and b) nearing the Goldilocks window. Start planning a trip, hunting deals, and setting up fare alerts now!

6. Use those points!

Don’t want to deal with Goldilocks windows, planning ahead, being flexible, and researching dates to save on airfare? You should know by now that my go-to advice is to use those points and miles. 😉 While it’s true that many reward flights are still susceptible to fluctuating airfare (this is called “dynamic award pricing,” where the point value required for a flight changes based on the real-time cash price), but not all are. For example, JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines have fixed rate award prices to many of their destinations. This could help you last minute if you have points to cover the fare.

On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re planning a trip next year, now is the time to start maximizing/saving your points – or sign up for a travel credit card if you don’t have one already! I only paid for 2/9 flights last year thanks to my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, which has an elevated 75,000 sign-up offer right now (compared to its usual 60,000.) Apply here or check out my other top cards for travel.

Related: 8 Common Travel Misconceptions (and the Truth Behind Them)