By: Jon Douglas
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Whether you’re a college student looking for a place to party or a parent planning a family vacation, consider these simple strategies to help keep your airfare low.
1) Take spring break when others aren’t
The adage “timing is everything” is even more true for spring break than it is for holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, which have fixed dates. Most colleges take their spring vacations in mid-March, and many school breaks also occur then. So, assuming you’re flexible with your travel plans, you’ll generally pay less for your airfare if you can choose a different week for your getaway. Tickets will be most expensive — and planes most crowded — during the week leading up to Easter, which is March 23 this year. Take a vacation during the first or last week of March, or in April, and you could save $40 or more per ticket.
2) Fly during the week
Because many people prefer to travel on the weekend, you can often save $50 or more by flying on Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s especially true if you’re taking your spring break during one of the peak weeks of the season. To give just one example: A seven-night trip from Seattle to Orlando costs at least $509 round-trip if you depart on Sunday, March 16, but just $240 if you leave the following Tuesday.
3) Pick your destination carefully
Most people who live in northern climates use spring break as an excuse to soak up some sunshine. But choosing the right beach can make a dramatic difference in the cost of your ticket. According to Farecast, which tracks and predicts airfare prices, the average March fare to Cancun, a typical college party hot spot, is $400-$500 per ticket. But great deals are available to Aruba or the Bahamas during the same time. From New York City, trips to Nassau, Bahamas, cost as little as $219 round-trip in March, while flights to Aruba are as low as $265.
In general, the least-expensive beach destinations are the ones closest to your home. From Los Angeles, it’s generally cheaper to fly to locations on the west coast of Mexico, such as Puerto Vallarta or San Jose del Cabo, than it is to Hawaii or Florida. Farecast reports that Puerto Vallarta is a particularly good value this year, with fares tracking $80-$130 less per ticket than in 2007.
The easiest way to compare prices to different destinations is to use Farecast’s flexible search page, http://www.farecast.com/msn/flexibleTravel.do?m=. Select your airports and date range in the drop-down menus under “Refine Results,” and Farecast will show you the possible flight options that fit your preferences.
4) Compare fares for different airports
Once you’ve settled on your spring-break destination, do some comparisons to see if you can get a better price by traveling to a different airport. For example, you can save $30 per ticket in March by traveling from Chicago to Miami rather than Fort Lauderdale. Or, if you’re flying to the Hawaiian Islands from San Francisco, it’s generally cheapest to land on Oahu. But on some dates in March, it’s possible to save $50 per ticket by flying to Maui instead. (For an even better deal: Drive across the Bay Bridge to Oakland and fly to Honolulu; round-trip flights start as low as $293.)
5) Buy before ticket prices rise
Knowing when to buy can be as important as choosing the right destination. According to Farecast, prices for spring break start to climb within 30 days of departure, so you can save at least $50 by booking your tickets soon. (For some peak days, prices have already begun to skyrocket, so you may want to consider alternate dates or destinations.)
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