How to Get the Best Airfare

Believe it or not, there really is a best day of the week to make your best deal on an airline ticket, and it’s neither Monday nor Friday. It’s Wednesday! And there’s even a best time on Wednesday to buy that ticket.

People who don’t travel a lot for business sometimes envy those of us who do. Why, I don’t know, since business travel is hardly glamorous. And these days it’s getting worse. That said, for many of us, traveling for business is a fact of life. In these days of soaring fuel cost, the cost of travel is skyrocketing as well. As a new entrepreneur, I’ve had to balance the need to travel with the importance of watching our company’s budget.

The good news is there are ways to spend less, especially on air travel. Here’s what I’ve found in trying to cut my own travel costs.

First, you may have to break your old habits. Do you have a favorite airline that doesn’t necessarily offer the flight schedules you need now? It’s more important than ever to join the frequent flyer club of every airline you may possibly fly. Signing up is free and you’ll be able to accrue miles, which eventually can be used for free upgrades or even flights. If you travel a lot on one or two airlines, you might fly enough miles to become a premium-level flyer. Every airline calls a premium level something different, but for most, the first premium level generally kicks in at 25,000 annual miles flown. Next up is usually 50,000 and then there’s the exalted 100,000 mile level.

The other advantage of being at a premium level is those flyers are exempt from the baggage charges most airlines now charge. But there’s also a downside to sticking to one or two favorite airlines-you make be overpaying for fares. I am a platinum-for-life flyer on American Airlines (that means I’ve flown over two million lifetime miles there). I used to almost blindly book on American, since I just kept accumulating miles. That’s not the case anymore. When I’m ready to book a flight, I go online and search for the best fare. There are several sites that can help you do that-on some, like Orbitz.com, Expedia.com or Travelocity.com, you book through the site. On others, like Kayak.com (a favorite of mine), they present the best deals, tell you where they are and allow you to immediately book a flight online.

Airlines are changing rules and offers constantly these days. Many companies are back to offering lower fares for flights booked 21 days in advance and for those dreaded Saturday night stayovers – two things not very popular for business travelers.

A tip often cited by travel experts is to check out regional airports, where flights may be cheaper. The downside is you likely aren’t going to fly non-stop. And make sure you figure in the added cost of ground transportation (if any) to the price of the cheaper fare, to make sure the overall cost is still cheaper. Also, you have to compare (luckily most travel sites and the airline sites themselves make comparisons easy). Flying out of my local airport, John Wayne in Orange County, CA often costs far more than if I make the schlep up to Los Angeles and fly out of LAX.

Other smart tips are:

For the best fares, book your flight on a Wednesday-and never on a weekend. (I don’t really understand why this is important, but several travel experts offered this same advice).

Connecting flights are usually cheaper than flying non-stop. Of course it adds hours to your travel day. If you are connecting, it’s now recommended you leave one hour and 45 minutes between connections.

Don’t book the last flight of the day. Stuff happens and if it happens to this flight, you’ll be spending the night in the airport.

Make sure you check all airline fares and schedules. Recently I’ve gotten good deals flying JetBlue and Virgin America. (And, at the moment anyway, those airlines, along with Southwest, Continental and Delta aren’t charging for the first piece of checked luggage).

Check with the experts. Peter Greenberg is the travel editor on the Today Show and has a great Web site. Check it out at http://www.petergreenberg.com .

These are just a few tips I’ve found. I’m certain you all have your own favorites. E-mail them to me at rieva@smbconnects.com and I’ll share them at a later date. Or if it’s too much for you, remember time is money and find yourself a good travel agent.

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