By Jessica Plautz
May 23, 2018
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A photo composite of all the planes taking off from Heathrow in a one-hour period.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Airlines for America announced Wednesday that it expects an average of 2.68 million passengers per day on U.S. airlines this summer travel season, for a total of 246.1 million from June 1 to August 31, 2018.

That's a new record, with 3.7% more passengers than last year, that the trade association attributes to low airfares and more routes.

After adjusting for inflation, average fares are cheaper than in 2010, down from $380 round-trip to $363 in 2017 (in 2017 dollars). “As the economy grows along with household net worth, passengers are taking advantage of persistently low airfares for their summer travel plans,” John Heimlich, Airlines for America's vice president and chief economist, said in a statement.

Competition among airlines has brought prices down as travelers continue to show that the cheapest price is the biggest factor when choosing an airline. After price, travelers prioritized flight schedule, on-time reliability, and seat comfort, according to the trade association.

While cheap airfare may drive purchasing decisions, everyone knows that a middle seat with no legroom and no snacks is a less-than-ideal vacation experience. To make sure your summer travel is cheap and comfortable, here are a few tips for booking a flight and heading to the airport.

Set airfare alerts.

If you haven't booked your trip yet, you're not alone. Thirty-six percent of Americans who are planning to vacation this summer haven't actually planned that vacation yet, according to HomeAway. It is never too early or too late to set airfare alerts, and the Hopper app and Google Flights are a great place to start. Both of those, as well as most major flight searches like KAYAK and Hipmunk, will show you the cheapest fares but also let you filter out “basic economy” fares.

Know what you're getting.

Speaking of basic economy: People who travel with minimal luggage and with minimal expectations can always save a buck by buying these still-new-but-now-common economy fares. Basic economy means you likely won't get to pick your seat assignment, sometimes will only be able to bring a personal item, and will board last. If your budget is tight, do it. If comfort is more important, then be weary of these fares. Check on the airline's website for any fees you'll end up incurring when you decide you actually do want to check a bag.

Check your seat before heading the airport (and maybe buy or bid on an upgrade).

About a week before your flight, double check your seat assignment in case anything has changed (which happens in instances like an aircraft change). While you're not guaranteed that seat, confirming it's what you want — or changing it right then — gets you one step closer to more comfort and less stress. If you're really committed, you can check out the aircraft on SeatGuru to see what seats other travelers recommend on that aircraft.

Checking in ahead of your flight also gives you an opportunity to see if any upgrades are available and reasonably priced. For example, if an exit row seat is open for $20 or $40 more, it's a relatively cheap way to improve your flight experience. Depending on the airline, it may also be possible to bid for a premium seat for much less than you would've paid had you booked it originally.

Breeze through security.

There's no need to find a printer or visit an airport kiosk. Major airlines offer mobile boarding passes that'll have you heading straight through security. And if you don't already have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, consider enrolling when you're already at the airport.

Invest in what makes you comfortable.

We can only assume economy airline seats aren't going to get more comfortable any time soon. But that doesn't mean you can't bring your own creature comforts on board. Be prepared with a pillow, some great headphones, and a good book, and that middle seat won't seem like such a bad deal after all.

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