Airfares are taking off. According to Travelocity, the average round-trip domestic airfare this Thanksgiving is $386, up 9 percent from last year.
But if you’ve got the will, there’s always a way to land an airfare bargain.
If your itinerary for travel savings begins and ends with a trip to an online travel agent like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity, you could easily miss out on a lower fare. You could also miss out if you confine your search to sites that aggregate fares, like Cheapflights, Kayak, or Mobissimo.
That’s because the best fares might be available from the place many travelers neglect to check: the airlines themselves. In the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains why. Check it out, then read on for more.
RELATED: 23 Ways to Save on Travel
As Stacy mentioned, some airlines have been offering lower prices on their websites to keep fliers from online agencies and aggregator sites. The reason is simple: They want to avoid paying commissions of roughly $10 to $25 per ticket.
Toronto-based Porter Airlines, for example, offers savings of up to 50 percent on its website. Southwest, the lowest-cost carrier in many markets, has never offered fares on sites other than its own.
At least one other airline isn’t stopping with incentives – they’re also placing restrictions on passengers that don’t book from them directly. Frontier Airlines recently announced that failing to book from their site will result in half the frequent flier miles, higher fees, and no ability to get a seat assignment until check-in.
Bottom line? If your goal is the best possible deal, you might not find it with one-stop shopping. Use an online agency or aggregator to see the options, but don’t book until you also check the airline’s site.
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More tips for extra savings…
1. Follow your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook
Many airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta, tweet hourly, offering info about deals and discounted fares.
2. Sign up for email alerts
Sign up for deal alerts to be emailed or texted to you. I get weekly emails from Airfarewatchdog to stay informed about the lowest fares out of my local airport. You can also personalize your settings so you’ll be alerted when that flight to Aruba drops in price. Some other great options for alerts: Smartertravel.com and TripAdvisor.com/Flights.
3. Look for discount codes
Don’t ever buy a plane ticket (or anything else) without searching for a coupon code. It only takes a few seconds: Simply go to your favorite search engine and type in “(Airline) Promo Code.” And if you need them, check for promo codes on rental cars and hotels while you’re at it.
4. Fly on less popular days and times
As we said in last year’s 7 Steps to Cheaper Airfares, try to book an early morning Tuesday or Wednesday flight. Airlines also tend to charge less for the first flight out each day, and weekly price wars between airlines work in your favor on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
5. Consider traveling in shoulder seasons
Going to Europe? Consider flying in late August or September, when prices tend to drop. Early December or after mid-April are good times to find lower fares for the Caribbean.
6. Consider crowdsourcing
Earlier this year, we told you about a site called Flightfox, run by experts (also known as “flight hackers”) who compete to find you the best flight. Finder’s fees start at $24, but if you aren’t satisfied, the service is 100 percent refundable.
RELATED: 10 Tips to Save on Baggage Fees
7. Compare airports
Being picky about airports can cost you. That’s why travel search engines like Kayak include that little box that says “add nearby airports” – check it and you might see lower rates. For example, testing a round-trip ticket from Miami to Los Angeles found a low price of $430 the week before Christmas, but when including nearby airports, Kayak found a $389 ticket flying out of Fort Lauderdale instead.
8. Use your frequent flier miles
If you’re not already enrolled in a frequent flier program, you might want to sign up for one. When deciding which one to use, consider where you’ll be flying frequently and which airlines you’ll travel with. Also consider what type of tickets you’ll be buying and if the airline offers useful upgrades for you.
9. Avoid baggage fees
Choose an airline that has a low-cost or no-cost baggage policy. Fly Southwest and you can check two bags for free. With JetBlue, you’ll get one bag in for free. United Airlines is a different story, charging $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, as we explained in 10 Tips to Save on Baggage Fees.
10. Beware of pricing glitches
In June, we told you Delta Airlines was charging higher airfares to frequent fliers when they logged into their account, and lower fares when they were not logged in. We also told you Mac users were paying more for flights when they used Orbitz, based on the fact they spent 30 percent more on hotels than PC users. These matters have since been addressed and resolved, but it taught us a lesson. Be sure to perform multiple airfare searches.
11. Book early
Planning ahead can give you a good jump on savings. Rates start rising two weeks from the flight date, according to FareCompare.com. They recommend booking two to 12 weeks out.
12. Name your own price
Sites like Priceline.com let you make the price offer, but require flexibility in exchange: You don’t know the airline, departure time, or layovers until you buy. You also can’t earn frequent flier miles. The price can be significantly lower than published fares, though – up to 50 percent in some cases.
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Back in 2010, American Airlines <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/08/american-airlines-to-char_n_454109.html" target="_hplink">started charging $8 for blankets</a>.
Ryanair Boarding Pass Fees
Songstress Lily Allen took to twitter to express anger over<a href="http://news.travel.aol.com/2011/06/06/lily-allen-twitter-ryanair-boarding-pass/" target="_hplink"> Ryanair's policy of charging passengers to print out their boarding passes</a>.
Spirit's Online Booking Fee
In November 2011, Spirit Airlines <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/spirit-airlines-raises-on_0_n_1093430.html" target="_hplink">raised its domestic "passenger usage fee" (aka online booking fee) from $8.99 to $16.99</a> each way.
Southwest Airlines <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/southwest-airlines-fees-fuel-costs_n_1381008.html" target="_hplink">raised its ticket prices by $4 to $10 to offset the high cost of jet fuel</a> in March 2012. Its subsidiary AirTran, plus United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, US Airways, Frontier Airlines and Virgin America followed suit.
Ryanair Emergency Row Fee
Ryanair found itself under investigation after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/20/ryanair-in-hot-water-over_n_1366497.html" target="_hplink">instituting a 10 pound fee to sit in the emergency row</a>.
Allegiant Air's Carry-On Fee
In April 2012 the budget carrier announced a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/allegiant-air-carry-on-fe_n_1397911.html" target="_hplink">$35 carry-on fee</a>.
Spirit's New Carry-On Fee
A month later, low-cost Spirit Airlines <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/spirit-airlines-carry-on-fee_n_1472508.html" target="_hplink">upped carry-on fees to as much as $100</a>.
Airlines Could Charge Extra For Seats Together
Late May 2012 saw airlines start to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/airline-charges-seats_n_1533866.html" target="_hplink">reserve more window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay extra</a>. This would make it it harder for friends and family members to sit next to each other.<br /> <br /> Sen. Chuck Schumer urged airlines to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/chuck-schumer-airlines_n_1548794.html" target="_hplink">allow families with young children to sit together without paying extra</a>.
United's $100 Bag Fee
In June 2012, United <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/united-airlines-raises-international-bag-fee_n_1589223.html" target="_hplink">raised its fee for a second checked bag on trans-Atlantic flights to $100</a>. Delta had done the same a few months earlier.
Wizz Air's Carry-On Fee
Carry-on fees have finally hopped the pond. <a href="http://skift.com/2012/07/09/carry-on-bag-fee-spreading-wizz-air-charge-europe/" target="_hplink">European regional carrier Wizz Air instituted a 10 Euro (about $12) fee to use the overhead bins</a>. Bags that fit under the seats still fly free.
Credit Card Booking Fee
In August 2012, Airefarewatchdog called out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-hobica/the-latest-airline-fee-credit-card_b_1829396.html">Allegiant Airlines for charging more to book flights via credit card</a>.
Southwest Airlines' Early Boarding Fee
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/southwest-airlines-fees_n_2525443.html?utm_hp_ref=travel#slide=more232494">Southwest passengers can pay $40 to be one of the first 15 people on the plane</a>, as of January 2013.
United Fare Increase
United Airlines announced in December 2012 that it would be raising domestic fares up to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/united-airlines-raises-prices-10-dollars_n_1954864.html" target="_blank">$10 per round trip</a>. While the price bump is minimal, travelers looking for the best deal could be dissuaded from purchasing the slightly more expensive tickets.
One of the most profitable airlines in the U.S., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/28/allegiant-air-fees_n_3516384.html" target="_blank">Allegiant Air</a> came into the spotlight for its length list of added-on fees. The budget airline is similar to Ryanair in wooing travelers with low-cost flights to small airports and tacking on hidden fees in every aspect of the flight. In addition to the run-of-the-mill luggage and seat-choice fees, Allegiant has fees for paying with a credit card ($8), using the overhead luggage compartments ($10-$25) and booking over the phone ($50!). (AP Photo/David Becker)
American Airline Fare Initiatives
In response to "nickle-and-diming" complaints, American Airlines introduced new <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-hobica/american-airlines-new-fare_b_2312289.html" target="_blank">fare-bundling initiatives</a>. The options -- "choice essential" and "choice plus" -- offer an array of packaged perks for one set price, rather than a la carte. While many complained about the initiative, others saw it as a way to get more for your money.
United Premier Access
United Airlines rolled out "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/united-premier-access-rip-off_n_2788513.html" target="_blank">Premier Access</a>" in March 2013. The program includes a designated check-in and security lines, and priority boarding and bagging handling. While the fees for the exclusive services only start at $9, travelers must <em>already</em> be elite customers.
Frontier Third-Party "Fees"
In May 2013, <a href="http://www.cntraveler.com/daily-traveler/2013/05/frontier-airlines-carry-on-fees-050213?MBID=twitter_" target="_blank">Frontier announced</a> that anyone purchasing a ticket through a third-party, such as travel agents or websites like Expedia, would be subject to additional fees. In reality, the fees are actually perks (such as carry-on luggage) Frontier only offers to travelers booking through the airline directly.
New Alaska Airline Fees
In July 2013, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/09/alaska-airlines-fees_n_3568206.html" target="_blank">Alaska Airlines</a> raised its baggage checked fee from $20 per bag (for up to three bags) to $25 per bag for the first two bags, and $75 for an additional piece of luggage. The airline also upped it's ticket-change fee to $125.