What Are The Best Ways to Get Cheaper Plane Tickets?

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Finding Cheaper Plane Tickets

We all know the feeling. You’re ready for a much-needed vacation, perhaps to a tropical beach, a big city, or somewhere off the grid. You know exactly when you want to go, your days off from work are approved, and you’re ready to start planning the details. There is one problem. Plane tickets seem way too expensive! Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get cheaper plane tickets. The aviation experts at Sheffield School of Aeronautics in Fort Lauderdale, the oldest and most reputable aircraft dispatcher school, share some secrets of the search.

Finding Cheap Plane Tickets: The Three A’s

The first trick to cutting the price of your trip is to know all of your travel options. One way to do that is to remember the three A’s: airlines, airports, add-ons. Let’s examine how each can contribute to reducing your airfare.

#1: Knowing the Airlines

While every airline has the same ultimate mission – to get you from one place to another safely and on time – each airline is different in how it prices its tickets. Airlines in the United States fall into three general buckets: legacy, lower-cost, and ultra-low-cost. But don’t let those names confuse you, as every one of the millions of airline tickets sold each day is priced slightly differently.

Legacy Airlines

After years of mergers and consolidations, the United States now has just 3 “legacy” airlines: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. When purchasing a ticket on a legacy airline, you will generally pay more than other airlines offering the same route if there is direct competition in your home city. All of the legacy airlines now charge extra for services that used to be free, such as selecting a seat or checking a bag.

So, how do you reduce your airfare on a legacy airline?

  • Book “basic economy” tickets and travel light. You will pay the lowest price possible and not pay for any checked baggage. Keep in mind these tickets are often non-refundable under any circumstances.
  • Use an airfare search tool such as Kayak or Hopper. These will find schedules and fares that the airline may not show you right away.
  • Sign up for the airline’s credit card. Even if there is an annual fee, it is often offset by hundreds of dollars worth of rewards miles that can be used for several “free” tickets.

Lower-Cost Airlines

The next bucket of airlines is the “lower-cost” airlines: JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines. These companies still provide some “free” services, such as Southwest not charging for most checked baggage, and these airlines frequently, but not always, price their tickets lower than the same routes on legacy airlines.

How do you find cheaper plane tickets on lower-cost airlines?

  • Sign up for emails. These airlines often hold airfare sales, which truly do offer discounts over regular pricing. Sales can happen at any time, but remember, they often only last a few days.
  • Consider alternative airports. This will be covered in item #2 below, but these airlines have built their businesses by flying from secondary airports in major regions, i.e., Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, Houston Hobby instead of Houston Intercontinental, and Chicago Midway instead of Chicago O’Hare.

Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers

The third bucket of airlines is the “ultra-low-cost” carriers: Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit Airlines. These airlines charge for everything and anything they can beyond your actual ticket: seat selection, checked and carry-on bags, priority boarding, food and drinks including water, and even a fee for booking online or over the phone.

How do you make plane ticket prices on the ultra-low-cost carriers even lower?

  • Book at the airport. Though this seems counterintuitive and difficult, you can save big. For example, Spirit will not charge the standard $23 “passenger usage fee” on each one-way ticket booked at an airport ticket counter. If you are a family of four flying round-trip, this is an easy $184 savings!
  • Travel light! This one is huge since these airlines charge for carry-on bags larger than a backpack. Sometimes the length or purpose of a trip does not allow for this but remember that any bag with wheels will definitely cost you to bring on board.
  • Bring your own food and drinks. While the other airlines do still give you at least a beverage and light snack on most flights, you are indirectly paying for it in the cost of your airfare. On the ultra-low-cost carriers, you pay for everything. Bring an empty water bottle to fill up at the airport and a snack or meal depending on the length of your flight. Again, with a family of four, this preparation can easily save you big.

Just like almost every industry, the aviation industry is constantly evolving, and in late 2021, two brand new airlines appeared on the scene: Avelo Airlines and Breeze Airways. These airlines are still determining their place and their exact business model. 

#2: Knowing the Airports

As mentioned above, choosing which airport you fly from can make a major difference in finding cheaper plane tickets. Depending on where you live, this may not be possible since the next-closest airport could be several hours away. However, many large regions have “secondary” airports that often charge lower fees to the airlines, which are then passed on to you in the form of reduced airfares. Also, since most of the largest airports are hubs for one of the legacy airlines, there is often little competition on certain routes, leading to higher ticket prices.

Examples of Secondary Airports

City/Region

Primary Airport(s)

Secondary Airport(s)

New York City

Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA)

Newark (EWR), Westchester (HPN)

Los Angeles

Los Angeles (LAX)

Long Beach (LGB), Ontario (ONT), 

Orange County (SNA), Burbank (BUR)

Chicago

Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Chicago Midway (MDW)

Philadelphia

Philadelphia (PHL)

Baltimore-Washington (BWI), Newark (EWR)

Dallas-Fort Worth

Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)

Dallas Love Field (DAL)

San Francisco-Oakland

San Francisco (SFO)

Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC)

Houston

Houston Intercontinental (IAH)

Houston Hobby (HOU)

Boston

Boston Logan (BOS)

Providence (PVD), Manchester (MHT)

Miami-Fort Lauderdale

Miami (MIA)

Fort Lauderdale (FLL), West Palm Beach (PBI)

#3: Knowing the Add-Ons

Our third secret to getting a cheaper plane ticket is knowing about the add-ons that you will be charged for, but are often entirely avoidable. Frequent flyers have been used to many of these additional charges for years now, yet it is still important to remember them each time you book.

  • Seat selection: Choosing a window or an aisle seat at booking will likely come with a price. Tip: wait for a seat to be assigned to you for free at check-in. If you don’t like the seat, you can usually pay to switch to a more desirable seat then.
  • Checked and carry-on bags: Owning a durable backpack or smaller duffle bag can pay off big! While the ultra-low-cost carriers say you can only bring one “personal item” on board for free, most smaller backpacks and duffle bags will comply with this restriction. Don’t bring a rollaboard suitcase that you have to pay for when a smaller bag without wheels will do just fine.

Bottom line, while some routes and travel times such as Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks will always command a premium airfare, it is very possible to get a cheaper plane ticket on almost every trip. Considering each of these three A’s – airlines, airports, add-ons – will help you find reduced airfare and give you more money to spend at your destination!

Contact Sheffield School of Aeronautics!

As the oldest and most reputable aircraft dispatcher school, Sheffield School of Aeronautics is always busy training the next generation of airline and aviation employees. We have provided training to thousands of people who’ve turned their love of flying into a lucrative and high-demand career. Flight dispatch training can be completed at our in-person or online dispatcher school. We give you the means to complete your CAA, ICAO, and FAA aircraft dispatcher license. Contact us today to have your career take off tomorrow!

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