NEW YORK — To snag the best airfares, travelers need to be adventurous and willing to pick up at a moment's notice.
Okay, now let's be realistic. Most people making summer travel plans need just that: plans. They get a week off, maybe two, and they aren't going to spend hard-earned cash on a last-second whim. But great deals are still within reach for those who have even a little flexibility in choosing where and when to travel.
The average round-trip domestic ticket will cost $431 this summer, an increase of 2.6 percent from last year, according to kayak.com. But that's an average. One trip might cost $800, while another might be $200.
Here are some tips on how to combat rising airfares:
LAST-MINUTE WEEKEND FARES
When airlines don't fill planes for an upcoming weekend, they slash prices. Each Tuesday, they email offers for that coming weekend or the following one to fliers who have signed up online for the deal alerts. Travelers have to depart late Friday night or any time Saturday and come back Monday or Tuesday.
Recent offers include Houston to Memphis for $180; Huntsville, Ala., to Chicago for $174; Washington, D.C., to Greenville, S.C., for $157; and Charlotte, N.C., to West Palm Beach for $240.
TWITTER AND FACEBOOK
Airlines are experimenting with sales on Twitter. At the forefront is JetBlue, which tweets last-second fare sales and vacation package discounts from @JetBlueCheeps. Some deals apply to just a few seats and are gone within hours. JetBlue recently tweeted a sale at 3:16 p.m.; it ended at 6 p.m.
Airlines announce special sales to those who "like" their Facebook pages, and sites like AirfareWatchdog offer fare alert emails (airfare watchdog.com/fare-alerts/).
Looking to go to Paris for a week but don't care when in the next few months? ITA Software's airfare search (matrix.itasoftware.com) provides a calendar of the lowest fares. Just enter the departure and destination cities and how many nights you want to spend at your destination city. It will find the cheapest prices for a month out from a given date.
Fares to Hawaii might be steep, but connecting though another city with a sale to Hawaii could save a lot of money. Use Airfare-Watchdog's "fares to a city search" (airfarewatchdog.com/cheap-flights/to-a-city) to see if there are less expensive indirect routes to your destination. Instead of flying from, say, Boston, it could be a lot cheaper to book two separate tickets — the first between Boston and Houston and the second between Houston and Hawaii.
CHASE FARE, NOT DESTINATION
Want to know the cheapest fares from a departure city to anywhere? Check out Kayak's explore tool (kayak.com/explore). It allows travelers to search multiple airlines at once this way. A map pops up with all the destinations under a set budget point.