Travel can be pricey, and most of us who value our money are constantly on the lookout for the best ways to save a few bucks on our travel expenses. Rumors swirl around the media and by word of mouth, promising tips and tricks for saving, but unfortunately not all of those rumors have any backing. So today I’m sharing some of the most common budget travel myths I hear and why they, sadly, just aren’t true.
Book your flight on a Tuesday six weeks out
I hear this one quoted to me more often than I’d like, so I thought it should be tackled first. When news stories share the best time to buy a plane ticket, they tend to give one of these dates as the best time to but a ticket. Different organizations have collected data to show that, in the grand scheme of things, six weeks out seems to be about the best time to purchase a domestic ticket. But remember, this is an average of all data, not a rule. That means that many flights will likely be cheaper four weeks out or nine weeks out and some flights may be at their most expensive six weeks out. Plus, this “rule” doesn’t apply to international airfare at all.
The Tuesday thing has been conflated a bit with the cheapest day to fly. Because most business trips leave on Monday and many leisure travelers fly closer to the weekends, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be cheaper days to fly. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily cheaper days to book airfare.
So when is the actual best time to purchase airfare? It depends! There are so many factors that come into play with airfare prices that there is no ideal time to book. Prices frequently change by the day or even by the hour. I recommend beginning to search prices as early as possible and booking your flights when they’re at a price where you feel comfortable.
Shop for airfare incognito so your cookies aren’t tracked
The rumor on the street is that airlines track your browsing history and cookies and adjust prices accordingly. However, there’s little evidence to back this up. Many people will cite personal examples of flight prices jumping up by doing multiple searches or searching for the same flight the next day. What’s likely really happening is that the prices are changing due to the many fluctuations already built into the airlines’ pricing models. As I mentioned above, there are tons of different factors that impact flight prices, but your browsing history likely isn’t one of them.
I’ve found that if I search for flights on Delta.com, Expedia.com, Google Flights, or ITA Matrix, the same price will come up for the same flight, regardless of how many times I’ve searched on any of the sites. That consistency tells me that the flight pricing has little to do with my browsing history.
With all that said, using incognito or private browsing doesn’t hurt, so it’s not a bad idea to use it just in case, especially with the online travel agencies. We know they’ve messed with search results in the past.
So what is the best way to find the cheapest price on a flight? Check often and use multiple airfare search engines. I’m in love with Google Flights these days as one of the quickest, easiest ways to compare airfare options. ITA Matrix is a slightly more complicated, but very effective, airfare aggregator that’s worth checking as well.
You only need to pay a change fee to make changes to your flights
I wish this one was true. The airlines make it sound like you’ll pay a simple $150 change fee and voilà, you can change to a different flight. Unfortunately, this isn’t typically how it works out. What will actually happen is that you will need to pay the difference in airfare PLUS the change fee. And, if you booked the flight indirectly, like through a travel agent or online travel agency, you can be slapped with an additional fee! So let’s say you book a $300 flight a few months out but then realize just one month later that you have an important work meeting that can’t be missed the day you were scheduled to fly. Trying to change the date, the cheapest flight now costs $500. So you will be paying the difference in fare, $500-$300=$200 plus the $150 change fee. Changing that flight will cost you $350 – more than you even paid for the first flight!
So what if you need to make changes? Try solidifying plans as much as possible before booking airfare. However, if you see a good deal but aren’t sure you can make it work, book the flight anyways as you’ll have at least 24 hours to cancel without penalty. For some airlines it’s even longer. Delta will let you cancel up until midnight the day after you book. If you know your travel plans are going to be up in the air for a while, you might want to consider booking in a refundable fare class, which will cost you, or purchasing “cancel for any reason” travel insurance.
Using travel agents saves money on flights
I know there’s comfort in letting an expert book your trips, but unfortunately they aren’t always going to save you money. Travel agents pull their information on flights and hotel rates from many of the same resources available to us on the internet. Plus, depending on what you’re booking and through what agency, you can be charged a fee for the travel agent’s service. It’s often relatively small, but it’s still extra money out of pocket.
From my personal experience, I’ve always been able to find cheaper flights than the ones our corporate travel agent has given us for work trips. I’ve found myself sending along the specifics of the flights to the agent on more than one occasion because she hasn’t been able to find them herself. I know the expertise of agents can vary greatly, but it goes to show you that they don’t necessarily always have the best deal.
So how can travel agents be helpful? Sometimes agents can piece together flights on different airlines that you may not be able to book. On occasion, they’ll also have access to fares that may not be open to the public through general booking sites. Also, if you have a complicated itinerary or feel overwhelmed with piecing together a big trip, they can help pull things together for you. However, if you opt to use a travel agent, I recommend doing your homework and looking into flights yourself. If you find something cheaper than the agent is recommending, it’s okay to send along the flight details and let him/her know that you want those particular flights booked.
Online travel agencies offer the best deals on hotels
Sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz can be great tools for browsing hotel prices and options, but they shouldn’t be your one-stop-shop. When you add in the taxes and fees, these online travel agencies rarely offer prices better than those you can get by booking directly with hotels. In fact, almost all major hotel chains offer a best rate guarantee, where they will match any lower price you’re able to find plus provide an additional discount.
So how can you find the cheapest hotel rates? Like airfare, it takes a bit of shopping around to secure the best deals. Use the online travel agencies to comparison shop and get an idea of prices in the area, but more times than not, you’re probably best off booking directly with the hotel. If you can use promotional codes or discount rates like AAA, you’re likely going to save even more.
Do you know of any other budget travel myths? Add them in the comments below.