If your friends’ Instagram feeds have been especially travel-envy-inducing recently, there’s a reason. Thanks to increased competition, cheaper fuel, a stronger dollar, and a weaker euro and pound, airline tickets to previously expensive destinations like Europe have never been more affordable.
Some recent too-cheap-to-be-believed deals have included $99 one-way fares on Norwegian to Dublin and Edinburgh from New York, $199 fares to Amsterdam from Los Angeles on WOW, and $589 round-trip fares from New York to Venice on Delta — plus this $69 trans-Atlantic score that blew our minds. Meanwhile, thanks to United’s recent public-relations fiascos, they’ve also dropped their prices and have been offering across-the-board so-called “apology fares,” according to Travel + Leisure.
To maximize your own chances of a summer selfie in front of the Colosseum, we spoke with airline expert Scott Keyes of flash-sale alert site Scott’s Cheap Flights. He gave Jet Set the scoop on how to snap up coveted cheap seats before they disappear.
1. Look for unadvertised fares.
“Airlines' advertised sales are rarely worth buying,” Keyes explains. “It's the unadvertised sales that are really good value. After all, if the fares are good enough, they don't need help selling themselves.” Sign up for airfare alert services like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Hopper, Airfare Watch Dog, and Flight Fishing to keep abreast of the trends before they disappear.
2. Be prepared to book immediately.
Found a great price? Snap it up on the spot. “In general, the better the fare, the shorter it will last,” Keyes says, explaining that some of the best fares, like tickets to Europe for under $400, might only last a few hours. And if you’re nervous about buyer’s remorse, don’t be. If you book directly with an airline, federal law requires them to give you 24 hours after purchase to cancel the ticket with no penalty. “This can be helpful when there's a really good fare but you're not 100-percent sure about the dates,” Keyes says. “Lock in the low price and give yourself an extra 24 hours to decide.”
3. Fly from a different airport.
Live in New York? Look for tickets out of Boston or Washington, DC. Call Los Angeles home? Consider searching for flights from San Francisco, Las Vegas, or San Diego. “Cross the ocean as cheaply as possible,” Keyes says. “I used to live in Washington, DC, but the best ticket I ever purchased was from NYC to Milan for $130 round-trip. It was well worth the $20 bus ride up, and I even got to spend the weekend with friends in NYC. If I had insisted on flying to Milan from DC, not NYC, the ticket would’ve been around $800, not the $150 I actually paid.” Savvy city hopping can help you save hundreds.
4. Flexibility is king.
So, you’ve got one-week of vacation and a passport in your pocket? Resist the temptation to approach booking in this order: Pick a destination, then pick your dates, and then sift through until you find the cheapest flight. “This approach results in high prices,” Keyes explains. “If getting a cheap flight is your priority, flip that approach.” Start by seeing what prices are available via sites such as Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Momondo. Once you’ve found a slew of destinations at affordable prices, choose the one that most appeals. Picking your dates should be the last step. The up-side to this approach is excitement: You might end up going somewhere you’d never dreamed — such as South America, East Asia, or Central Europe — rather than old (and often more expensive) standbys like Hawaii, London, and Paris.
5. Look beyond the big carriers (and websites).
While most airlines will show up on search aggregators such as Orbitz or Expedia, don’t assume they’ll pull in every last option. “Remember that Southwest doesn't show up on flight search engines. You've gotta look directly on their website,” Keyes says.
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