Better Booking: T+L Editors Share Their Tips For Getting The Best Fares
We’ve done deep dives into the best time to book flights for optimal rates—54 days, according to CheapAir.com, though there’s more to it than that. “There’s a sweet spot for domestic fares that CheapAir calls the ‘Prime Booking Window,’ and it spans from 21 to 112 days ahead of your departure date. Booking in that three-month span will offer maximum odds for a bargain booking,” Nikki Ekstein wrote.
Meanwhile, when Kayak released its 2016 Travel Hacker Guide, we summarized the top 10 U.S. destinations for travel, and the best times to book for airfare deals to each, citing the average highs and lows for rates in every spot.
We’re regularly on the lookout for ways to travel better, testing out airfare search tools, special travel services, and other tricks for starting your trip off right (and making sure it’s perfect until it’s time to come home). After our latest discussion on flight and train planning, we thought we should collect all of this finely tuned intel into a resource we can all use, again and again.
Our editors shared their tried-and-true booking strategies, from planning and research tools to tech tips and how they set up their flight alerts. We’ve got tips on getting the best savings on trains, how to secure the seat you most want, getting discounts on rental cars, and a number of sites we never plan a trip without visiting.
Read on for our advice, and use it to plan your next getaways. Want some inspiration for where to go? Take a look at the Best Places to Travel in 2016.
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Tools That Plan by Budget
If you're more concerned about budget than destination, pick where you're going based off of the airfares. Adioso lets you search for airfares going "somewhere warm" or to "South America," for instance, all within a specific budget. Kayak has a map of the world that shows you how much it costs to fly, well, anywhere. And Google's new Destinations on Google tool gives you suggestions for where to go within any continent, all based on your budgetary restrictions. It's a great way to reign in your costs even before you start with the alerts and the comparison shopping. —Nikki Ekstein, travel news editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Go Incognito
Always (always!) book in an Inconito tab on your browser (available on Google Chrome). There's some debate on whether or not airlines can access your browsing history, but better safe than sorry when a better airfare deal is possibly on the line. —Erika Owen, audience engagement editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Flight Alerts
I set alerts on Google Flights, Kayak, and Hopper for trips I know I'm taking, but haven't booked flights for yet. Hopper alerts me if there's a deal, Google tells me when the price drops, and Kayak serves as a daily or weekly reminder to check in on prices. This trifecta just helped me score tickets to Italy this summer for under $650! —Stephanie Wu, senior editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Plan a Trip Spontaneously
My number one booking strategy is booking at least one spontaneous trip a year. I check The Flight Deal daily (they typically update deals from major hubs twice a day) and when I see a deal that can't be beat (think round-trip airfare from New York to Vietnam for $550) I book immediately. You can also use it to find deals for trips you're already planning, but it's rare you'll find the destination you need at the time you need it. —Melanie Lieberman, assistant digital editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Getting the Perfect Seat
As someone who likes to travel but absolutely hates to fly, I’ve come up with a process for booking my flights to make sure I get the best possible spot—window seat right by the wings. In theory, the middle of the plane experiences the least amount of turbulence, and the window lets me see what’s going on. To make sure I still have a few seats to choose from without booking too far in advance, I try to stick to the six weeks rule. A month and a half is enough time to still allow for seat options, and flights are usually at their cheapest at this point. —Sean Flynn, senior editorial producer
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Hotel Deals
I've started using Trivago.com for hotels; it aggregates prices from various online travel agencies, and the rates can vary surprisingly widely! —Kathy Roberson, copy and research chief
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Take Advantage of Reservation Holds
Since I fly American a lot, and they let you hold a reservation until 11:59 p.m. on a certain day, I'll will either stay up late or get up early to see if any better fares or seats released overnight. —Laura Teusink, managing editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Know When to Travel
No matter how savvy you are at searching for flights, you won't get the best deal unless you know you're traveling at the right time of year. I love consulting Google Flights for information on how flight prices rise and fall week by week, so that I can either plan around low season fares or adjust my expectations accordingly. Then I'll plug in alerts on Hopper, my favorite fare forecasting app. It will warn me if prices are soon to climb, or tell me not to book if prices might go down. —Nikki Ekstein, travel news editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Buy Early on Amtrak
I often have to travel home to Philadephia (specifically, Paoli) via Amtrak from NY Penn Station. And I always book my holiday tickets way in advance. If you book at least two months out, you can still get reasonable fare for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Early bird gets the Keystone line low fare worm! —Jacqueline Gifford, special projects editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Book on a Foreign Site
When flying internationally, check the foreign counterparts of the websites you normally book through. I recently used www.kayak.in, the Indian version of Kayak, to book fares from Mumbai to New York. I was hoping to find a British Airways flight with a long stopover in London, but that wasn’t available on BA.com, or via BA’s telephone booking line. When I looked on kayak.in, though, I found exactly what I was looking for, and the price was way more affordable. I booked a seat for $860, including a two-and-a-half day stopover in London, and was later able to upgrade to first class for both legs of the journey for a total of $250. My best option on US-based websites didn't include the stopover I wanted and would have cost $2,700 for an economy seat—more than double what I paid for first class. —Flora Stubbs, articles editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Where to Look For Deals
Check theflightdeal.com before booking anything. They may have an amazing deal on the destination you're traveling to. —Erika Owen, audience engagement editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Tap the Experts
If I've exhausted all of my travel deal-hunting options, I'll use FlightFox—a cross between a travel concierge and a flight research hub—and ask one of their experts to help me plan my trip. They can spend time hunting for deals when I can't, and you'll only pay for the service if they find you a better deal than the one you found yourself: at least enough to pay the fee. FlightFox is especially useful for multi-leg intineraries, far-flung destinations, and complicated trips. In addition to saving you money, they'll offer you itineraries that have the shortest layover time, the fewest connections, etc. —Melanie Lieberman, assistant digital editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Rental Cars For Less
For rental cars, don't be afraid to use Hotwire.com's "Hot Rate" option, where you aren't told which company you're booking with until after you book. Because are they really so different? I also use the Hot Rate for hotels when I know I won't be spending any time there, e.g., the night before a flight or train trip. —Kathy Roberson, copy and research chief
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Pricing Trains and Cabs
Flying isn't always the best way to get from Point A to Point B. Rome2Rio.com is a must-bookmark site, particularly for travel within Europe where train connections are plentiful and affordable. It'll tell you every possible way to travel between two destinations, including price and time estimates for your cab fare to the airport or train station. It's why I decided to take the train between Edinburgh and London, which took the same amount of time as flying, was a third of the price, and a heck of a lot more scenic. —Nikki Ekstein, travel news editor
T+L Editors' Booking Hacks: Getting Discounts on Amtrak
I'm forever amazed how many people don't realize that, with just a little advanced planning and some easy research on deals and discounts, it's easy to book inexpensive fare on Amtrak. For starters, booking four or more weeks out will lower fares dramatically. For special rates and other offers, just visit the Deals section on the website, which features everday discounts and promotions. Amtrak has plenty of scenic routes in its portfolio, giving U.S. travelers lots of creative options for riding the rails. —Corina Quinn, digital travel editor