Airfares on some routes are higher than they were four or five years ago, although Airfarewatchdog airfare searchers frequently find hundreds of fares crisscrossing the country for $250 or less round-trip. Here are some tips for making your airfare dollars go further.
There's no "magic" day or lead time to buy the best airfare. Airlines are unpredictable. No one can accurately predict where airfares are heading, any more than we can predict the stock market.
Search often, over a long lead time, and pounce when there's a deal. Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently. If you don't like the fare at 10 a.m., check at 2 p.m. or the next day or the next week and grab it when the fare is affordable.
Sign up for airfare alerts and email feeds. Many travel websites offer emailed airfare alerts, letting you know when fares go down. You can also sign up for emails from airlines for special deals and promo codes. Some of the best deals last only a short time. Twitter alerts are more immediate than email. Follow twitter.com/airfarewatchdog where you can get unusual airfare deals and promo codes daily.
Be a flexible travel date flier. If you don't care when you go as long as the fare is low, try a flexible date search. Many sites have eliminated their flexible date calendars. But kayak.com still has a good one (you must register as a user to see it under Flights/more options/flex month). Other good sites include adioso.com and google.com/flights/explore and google.com/flights.
Search airline sites individually, but remember that online travel agencies are still useful. Many airlines have "private" sales, reserving their best fares for their own sites. Online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity can tell you if it's cheaper flying out on one airline and back on another.
Use Priceline for last-minute trips. Try priceline.com's "name your own price" feature if you don't have an advance purchase window. You won't know the exact flight times or airline you're flying until you pay for your trip, but you can save 50 percent or more.
Buy tickets on an airline that will refund the difference if a fare goes down. All airlines used to do this. The only ones that still do are JetBlue, Southwest and Alaska.