If there were ever any hard and fast rules for booking airfare, they seem to have “flown” out the window. Airfares change constantly, even by the minute. It can be frustrating trying to get that best rate, but these tips can help you pay less.

1. Book early. The sooner you can decide on your holiday travel plans, the better. If you wait too long, you run the risk of less availability and higher rates. The Air Transport Association reports Thanksgiving, and the winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and News Years among the busiest travel days of the year (along with Easter, July 4th, Memorial Day, and Labor Day). With many airlines decreasing the number of flights, there are only a limited number of seats available. Don’t get squeezed out by waiting too long. Or you might find yourself having to make alternate plans.

Minnette Vélez, American Airlines Corporate Communications Manager-PR for the Caribbean and Central America, said, “Our recommendation is always to book holiday travel as far in advance as possible. That way, there are many options in terms of flight availability and fares.”

If you think you will get great deals at the last minute, such as right before you want to travel, think again. Airlines tend to drastically increase rates within 14 days of departure.

FareCompare.com, an airline ticket comparison shopping website, recommends buying any holiday tickets by late October. In addition, the site mentioned that Tuesday afternoons after 3 pm Eastern Time is the best time to start shopping for fares. This is because airlines start competing for the lowest fares of the week on Tuesday mornings. Any sales that are put into the system by the airlines by Tuesday afternoon are usually over by late Thursday, when they are made unavailable to consumers. So the best window for purchasing is from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday afternoon.

2. Avoid peak days if you can. “Holidays have always been times of peaks and valleys in travel demand,” said Vélez. “Some days close to holidays are extremely busy, with high demand, while others are much less so. Plan ahead. If you know you are headed to a popular holiday destination, there’s a very good chance many others will be doing the same. ”

Ned Raynolds, Corporate Communications Manager for American Airlines, added, “The actual holidays themselves—Christmas and Thanksgiving—tend to be lighter because people are already where they want to be.”

According the FareCompare.com, airfares for Christmas tend to start going up for travel on December 17 and after, and go back down for travel after January 3.

3. Be flexible. If you find fares are high for certain travel days, such as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, then check fares for a day or two earlier or later. If you are able to be flexible on the days you actually travel, you could save yourself some money—money that you could use at your vacation destination.

4. Use fare tracker alerts. If you have a particular travel destination in mind, you can often set up various fare tracker alerts through travel websites if you are booking airfare yourself. Then book when the fare drops. Don’t forget to check your email or the website often though since fares can quickly jump back up.

5. Fly on less popular days, such as a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. These days typically offer lower fares, and sometimes smaller holiday surcharges.

6. Choose a less popular flight time, such as early in the morning, around dinnertime, or overnight. These flights may have more seats available and sometimes have cheaper fares.

7. Don’t forget about the extra costs associated with flying. These include baggage fees, costs for snacks or meals while flying, fees for particular seat assignments, and parking fees. Fees and extra costs can add up, so when you are looking for rates that will fit within your budget, keep this in mind. Since airlines often change or add new fees, you may want to double-check these fees with the airline before you fly. Raynolds mentioned that sometimes American Airlines has baggage limitations for Caribbean flights. It’s always best to know if this applies, regardless of the airline, so there are no unexpected surprises.

8. Book through a travel agent. Travel agents can help you find the cheapest airfare possible. This can save a lot on the hassle of booking a flight, especially during peak travel times, like holidays. For instance, when booking through AllInclusiveOutlet.com, the system automatically finds the cheapest fares to your desired
destination. In addition, booking all of your travel and lodgings through one location can simplify things.

9. Plan ahead in case of inclement weather, a travel delay, or emergency. It seems inevitable that some airports in the U.S. will have inclement weather affecting flights. Keep in mind that this could affect your own travel as the effect trickles down. That plane that was coming from Chicago to your destination for its next leg of travel might not make it to you if it is grounded. Vélez recommends checking the status of a flight before arriving at the airport. Many airlines offer tools to check online for the status of your flight, as well as phone numbers to call beforehand.

Take all necessary phone numbers related with your booking with you in case you need to fix an issue related to a cancellation or delay. When an entire plane-load of passengers finds themselves without a way to get to their destination, then it can sometimes be faster to call your travel agent or the airline for help rather than stand in the inevitable long lines at the airport.

If your booking is made through All Inclusive Outlet, and you need assistance once you are on the road, there is a 24-hour customer care number you can call. In addition, Cancun and the Riviera Maya are serviced by local American Express representatives.

The travel documents you will receive from All Inclusive Outlet will include a local contact number and the procedures for various modes of customer service while traveling, as well as the contact numbers for the various transfer companies, airlines, and hotels. Keep these documents in your carry-on luggage just in case you need them.

10. In addition to knowing what to do in case of a cancellation, opting for trip insurance can add some peace of mind. AllInclusiveOutlet.com offers a Cancel for Any Reason and Travel Protection Plan that includes reimbursement of travel expenses and limited coverage for medical expenses, lost or stolen baggage, trip interruption due to sickness or death of you or an immediate family member, trip delay and baggage delay. Learn More

Deals
Let the deals be your guide. If you don’t have a particular destination in mind, then let the deals direct you to an incredible destination at a bargain rate. For instance, AllInclusiveOutlet.com has four fall deals to El Dorado Resorts on the Hot Deals page , which covers travel through Thanksgiving. Plus Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, is offering “Kids Stay Free”. if you want to take the kids and get out of town during Thanksgiving (travel must be before December 15, 2010 for this deal). And one hot deal for a New Years getaway is at Secrets Wild Orchid in Montego Bay in Jamaica (book before November 15, 2010). For all of the current deals offered by AllInclusiveOutlet.com, visit http://www.allinclusiveoutlet.com/deals.

So while organizing your travel plans during the holidays requires a little extra patience and know-how, it can truly pay off in the end when you and your loved ones make it to that extra-special destination for some holiday merriment.

Originally published for AllInclusiveOutlet.com. For more travel tips, news, and deals for the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, visit the website.





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