Expert Offers Tips for Finding Cheap Plane Tickets Amid Airfare Hike

To the dismay of travelers everywhere, airfare prices are through the roof this summer, thanks to a “perfect storm” of circumstances affecting the aviation sector.

After putting their dream vacations on hold for the past two years, the world is eager to take those long-awaited warm-weather trips but probably didn’t foresee travel costs skyrocketing to this degree.

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Founder of airfare deals website Scott’s Cheap Flights, Scott Keyes, told Travel + Leisure (T+L) there are three main reasons why we’re seeing such huge price hikes.

He posits that this spring and summer’s record surge in travel demand, which is back to pre-pandemic levels, was not anticipated by the industry, which has essentially been caught unprepared to handle the extreme influx of travelers.

“It came back far quicker than analysts, airlines, and basically anybody expected,” he said. “Folks are excited and eager to take those vacations they might not have felt comfortable or able to take over the past couple of years.”

Secondly, air travel supply has not rebounded as quickly as demand, with airlines having fewer planes, pilots, flight attendants, ground crew and other staff available than they did prior to the downsizing of the COVID-19 era.

“You’ve got full demand, but the actual supply of flights [is] still down between 15 to 20 percent, compared to pre-pandemic,” Keyes explained.

And, finally, there’s the record-high cost of crude oil to blame, although Keyes said that it’s not nearly as big a factor as the first two. He said, “jet fuel is the number two expense at every airline.”

So, what can consumers do if inflated airfare costs just don’t fit into their travel budgets? Keyes had four specific suggestions.

Searching for airfare.
Searching for deals on airfare. (Photos via iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sinenkiy)

Flip Your Trip-Planning Process

“The most important piece of advice I can give you is that if cheap flights are a priority, take the way you search for flights and flip it on its head,” Keyes told T+L.

He observed that travelers typically approach searching for flights based on a three-step thought process: choosing the destination they desire, then selecting the dates they want to travel and, finally, looking at flight costs. With pricing put last in order of priority, you’ll usually wind up with the most expensive flight options.

Throughout the pandemic, travelers have had to adopt a more flexible mindset in planning their trips and, if you’re really intent on keeping costs down, now isn’t the time to stop.

“If you really are hoping to get cheap flights, don’t make [price] the last priority. Make [it] the top priority,” Keyes recommended. “Keep that same three-step process and reverse it.”

By this method, you’d search for the cheapest flights out of your nearest airport, then decide your destination based on where you can get the lowest airfare prices and, finally, identify the dates where you can work your schedule around cheap plane tickets.

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Person booking flight tickets on a laptop. (Photo via Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Wait Until Autumn

If you’re able to wait, Keyes advises delaying your trips until the fall, when flight pricing has historically been lower. Even just holding off until September will afford largely the same travel opportunities as during summertime, but without the whopping price tag.

“Flights are so expensive right now because so many people are searching for flights in two of the worst ways possible,” Keyes said. “They’re searching for flights at one of the most expensive times of the year to travel, which is the summer. And they’re searching for flights at one of the most expensive times to buy, which is last minute.”

Travel money passport
Passports, wallets and money. (photo via volgariver / Getty Images)

Find the ‘Goldilocks’ Booking Window

Keyes pointed out that planning well ahead of time potentially presents you with the cheapest flight options. He recommends travelers identify what he calls the ‘Goldilocks zone’ when booking air travel—which falls between two and eight months in advance for international flights and from one to three months out for domestic flights. If you plan on traveling during the holidays, when demand is bound to be intense, add a few extra months on as a buffer.

“We’re not seeing any cheap flights for summer because those summer cheap flights were available in February,” Keyes told the outlet. “If you think about the Goldilocks window for the fall, we are now in it. And if you think about the Goldilocks window for the winter holiday flights, we are in it right now.”

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Close-up of model airplane sitting atop dollar bills. (photo via alfexe /iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Search for One-Way Flights

While this tactic only works for domestic travel, Keyes suggested searching for two one-way tickets instead of a single round-trip fare. He said it’s possible to find cheaper tickets bound in either direction, which are less expensive in combination than a round-trip ticket, even using different airlines.

Unfortunately, Keyes said, this strategy rarely works for international flights, explaining, “the one-way fare is actually sometimes as expensive as a round-trip flight,” on overseas trips.


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