How to Save Money on Flights Using Fare Alerts


Searching for cheap flights is an arduous and time-consuming task that can wear down even the most committed bargain hunters. Searching across dozens of booking sites comparing numerous deals can be confusing. Luckily, there's a better way to score a bargain on your next flight.

Most major booking sites and travel search engines offer the option to sign up for fare alerts, which eliminate a lot of the leg work required when searching for cheap flights. Each booking company has its own version of a fare alert, but they generally work by tracking the cost of flights over a period of time and notifying you of fluctuations. It’s simple, but there are still a few tricks that will help you secure the best deals. (See also: 10 Ways to Get Free (or Almost Free) Airline Tickets)

How airline pricing works

The majority of airlines have adopted a policy called "dynamic pricing," (aka surge pricing), which allows them to maximize profits on ticket sales. The basic principle of dynamic pricing is that the cost of the flights rises and falls based on demand. If lots of people rush at once to buy tickets, then the price will rise to reflect that demand. Once the rush is over, prices may come down again as the airline attempts to fill the remaining seats.

What this means for consumers is that it's become even more difficult to know when to book tickets. It also penalizes people who aren't able to be flexible about when they fly, because if the specific time and date they need is in high demand, prices will also be high. On the flip side, if you've managed to book before a spike, you could be laughing all the way to the bank.

Create alerts as soon as possible

Because of dynamic pricing, fares are constantly fluctuating and it’s hard to nail down a rule of thumb about the best time to book tickets. Some studies say that certain days of the week, like Tuesdays and Thursdays, are the cheapest days to make reservations, but usually admit that not all times of those days are optimal and of course you may find better deals on other days of the week. Most conclude that prices are lowest four to six weeks before the flight, but then again, you can sometimes find great last-minute deals. The beauty of fare alerts is that you can create them early in your vacation planning and let them do the price tracking for you.

Though the best time to buy may be in the time frames mentioned above, you give yourself the best possible chance of finding a deal by tracking fares over a longer period. Most flights go on sale up to a year in advance, so create your alerts as soon as you have a rough idea of when you'll need to take off. (See also: 10 Flight Booking Hacks to Save You Hundreds)

Sign up for deals

Rather than searching for specific flights on predetermined dates, you can score serious bargains if your dates are flexible and you're open to going anywhere. There are countless deal notifications you can sign up for from services such as Google Flights, Kayak, and Expedia. They offer different types of alerts, including fare mistakes, flash sales, and other great value opportunities. Instead of needing to proactively search on a regular basis, doing this means you can simply sit back and wait until one comes through that tickles your fancy.

It's important to jump on a deal you're interested in right away, particularly with fare mistakes, as they can disappear as quickly as they arrive. In addition, you're unlikely to be the only person to have signed up for alerts on any given flight. The airlines' dynamic pricing strategy means that if other people get in there before you, then prices may well have gone up again if you leave it too long to buy.

Get advice on when to buy

Several online tools now use large data sets including past and current prices from millions of searches to forecast when the best time to buy is. For example, searching on Kayak will bring up a box on the top left of your results that will advise you whether to buy now, watch the fare, or hold on a bit longer. Search engine Momondo offers a Flight Insight tool for some routes that tells you, among other things, when the best time to book is. And an app called Hopper offers a similar service that sends alerts to your phone when it’s time to buy. None of these are 100 percent certain, but as the services collect more data, their forecasts will become more accurate over time.

Get in on multiple fare comparison sites

As with most things when searching for a deal, it's better to check a wide selection, so you can compare the deals available. Different airfare booking sites have deals and agreements with different airlines, meaning you may find completely different options with each one.

Sign up for fare alerts with a selection of sites to get the full breadth of offers available. In my experience, the best ones to search with include Kayak, Momondo, Kiwi, Skyscanner, and Google Flights, but there are tons more to choose from. Try a few of them out and pick your favorites.

I have found that fares vary greatly among booking engines, so the more you’re signed up for, the better chance you have of seeing the lowest possible fare for your chosen flight(s). (See also: Little Known Trick to Getting Exclusive Travel Discounts and Rewards)

Don't be afraid to book

One thing to remember when trying to get cheap tickets using fare alerts is that a good deal for you is a good deal. This means that you need to work out beforehand a price range you'd be happy with, rather than trying to ensure that you catch the fare at its lowest possible price. This is because there's no guarantee how numbers will fluctuate and waiting for the very lowest price could mean missing out on a good price altogether.

This happened to me recently when the price for a flight I'd been tracking for a while started dropping significantly from day to day. It got to a price that I thought was an incredible deal, but rather than pounce on it, I decided to wait it out. Prices soon started rising consistently and I had to finally bite the bullet and pay more than I could have a few weeks earlier.

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