Flying cross-county for family events I started learning tricks to save 50% or more off the cost of flying. First I signed up for airline e-mail alerts and third party fare alerts such as Trip Advisor and Fare Watcher Plus to get alerts on low fares and coupons. This saves me about $5-$10 per flight. I also use Southwest Airline Fair Searcher to find their cheapest travel dates/times. I search for trips on these days/times on other discount websites such as Hotwire, TripStarter, and Kayak in addition to consolidate websites such as Airfare Planet, Airline Consolidator, Air Treks, Bargain Travel, Cheap Tickets, and more. This typically means departing and returning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, evening before a holiday, or day of a holiday. This has sometimes saved me over 35% compared to just picking convenient dates/times.
I compare nearby airports. I found prices for neighboring cities can vary by 10-20% which can add up to $100-$125 different, more than cost of a rental car. Flying from Fresno to Tampa instead of Orlando saved me $125 round trip one time, whereas another time I saved $90 by flying Fresno to Orlando instead of Tampa. I also look at switching airlines at hubs. I saved $125 by flying from Fresno to Dallas Fort Worth on Spirit (their hub) and changing to Delta Airlines from Dallas to Detroit (Delta hub) compared to flying one airline from Fresno to Detroit. I also look at options for saving by exiting at a stopover. Flying from California to Dallas with a layover in Houston was $60 cheaper than flying from California to Houston. Prior to booking I do talk to airlines to make sure it is not against their policy for customers to exit early, I haven’t had an airline tell me is not but some say they void frequent flyer miles when you exit midflight. I also avoid checked baggage when I will be exiting early.
Prior to buying I check the Bing Travel Price Predictor to guesstimate if I can save by waiting. Sometimes I saved $90-$100 on a flight from Orlando to Fresno by waiting until 2 days before to book compared to booking 3 weeks in advance. Although a few times the guess was wrong and I paid a bit more by waiting. I also check “vacation packages”. I was able to book a Sacramento to Washington DC flight for $60 less by booking a “vacation package” with airfare and hotel than I could book a flight alone. I also check baggage fees when the difference between airline fares is less than $50. Several websites such as Smart Travel have relatively updates summaries of baggage fees for major airlines. I also go to Priceline and put in a price slightly below my lowest fare to see if I can get a lower cost. The only drawback is that Priceline does not tell you the exact airline or time you will be flying, but it does often save me 23% to over 50% on tickets. Lastly I check on travel forums such as Flyertalk and MilePoint for discount and coupon codes for the airline I picked which can save me $15-$20 a ticket
Sometimes when going back to a website to book I find the price went up. If this happens I clear my internet cache, cookies and history and book each ticket individually. I find the price often goes back down. Once the difference between booking a group of 3 at once versus booking each individually on Southwest was $45 per ticket for a trip from Fresno to Detroit.
After booking I continue to watch fares for 24 hours. Typically due to 2012 Department of Transportation rules you can cancel a flight for free within 24 hours of booking. If I find a better fare I cancel the old flight and book the new one.