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TPG Readers Share Tips on When You Should Book Cash Fares

March 25, 2018
9 min read
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Ah, the age-old question: When is the best time to purchase your dream vacation ticket? You've saved your pennies for months, you know when you can take time off from work, you've arranged for babysitters and dog-sitters and plant-sitters. Now that your plans are locked and loaded, when should you actually put your money down?

After our recent reader feedback on when to book award travel, we consulted our TPG Lounge readers on their timing and price strategies when purchasing cash fares. Do they wait to book on Tuesdays — the supposed "cheapest day of the week" to book travel? Do they book peak-travel summer flights at a specific time? Or do they only book when their plans are absolutely finalized? Here's what they had to say...

"We go where the fare winds blow"

A number of TPG readers chase discounted fares wherever and whenever they pop up. Most utilize some combination of budget + destination + schedule to determine whether or not a particular deal fits their travel goals.

My wife and I tend to book trips on a whim. I follow a bunch of travel deal sites, get tons of daily travel spam – and when a deal pops up that is too good to pass up, we take it. We have destinations in mind, but really, we can be swayed when we see a great deal. — Kevin B.
We go wherever/whenever we find cheap flights. Last year I saw a nonstop to Paris for $372 RT on a Thursday. Booked it, and left 4 days later for a week. — Esther H.
A picture of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero (Place des droits de l'Homme)
The Eiffel Tower as seen from the Trocadero. Photo by Getty Images.
I take trips based around mistake fares, low saver awards and good deals. The key is flexibility. I usually prefer to travel in shoulder seasons or off seasons due to the discounts during those times. I'll usually watch the usual suspects who post the killer deals, and book two sets of dates around those deals. I'll then figure out which set of dates works best for me and/or any companions I travel with, and I'll cancel the [other] one (24 Hour DOT Rule). Example? There was a deal out of Baltimore to Colombia recently on Delta in the month of April. I was able to book tickets for myself and parents for $270 a pop round-trip. Parents are using Southwest points to position to Baltimore from Nashville. — Jonathan F.
Scott's Cheap Flights!! Let the price determine the destination not the other way around!! — Kevin J.
I usually can't take advantage of something that means traveling in the next few weeks, but I try to clear time off with my boss in far in advance so we can watch for deals. For example, I checked in early March before we shut down for xmas, and sure enough, on Dec 22nd we got $407 round trip from New York to Madrid. Then while we were in Madrid, we saw the post about Iberia's points sale and found business class that worked over Thanksgiving, so booked them. — Jeff W.
I usually decide what time of year I want to go, then when I find a great price, I settle in on final dates. — Theresa H.

"Plan ahead, and watch for lower prices"

Sometimes you don't have much flexibility when it comes to schedule or destination — in that case, readers suggest starting your research well in advance.

When we travel over Christmas and want specific dates, we book as early as we possibly can for great fares on the right dates. I follow along over the course of the year to confirm we got the best price, and we always do. We have always booked our Christmas tickets by March at the latest. — Bevin C.
For personal vacation trips... Google track flights a few months before booking. [I] have a good idea what's a great price by the time I'm ready to book, which is a few months before travel dates. — Tuan N
We usually start researching a few months before travel to get an idea about the pricing. Then monitor frequently. If we see a good price (based on the previous research), then we book it. Usually, we get pretty good deals. But recently I booked tickets on United and then prices came down. But United wants to charge me $300 for changing tickets or adjust to current price and charge a fee. That wipes out all the savings. So no hard rules. — Eleanor D.
Most of our travel is piggybacked off of meetings [my husband] has, so dates are pretty firm. If we will be flying economy and are being fully reimbursed, I just wait until we've booked the hotel and conference. If it's going to be a flight I want to upgrade/use points on, I book as soon as the window opens and I can find availability. — Angie S.

"I find a fare I'm comfortable with, and then I stop looking"

The Road to Hana is an amazing and probably Maui's most popular drive. One of the must stops on the way is the black sand beach. The water is cold, treacherous and shark infested. Waianapanapa State Park boasts a black sand beach that’s simply unparalleled on the island of Maui, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s nestled in a private cove, the pitch black granules glisten, dark and mysterious — there is something about it that draws people here. Created long, long ago by the rough surf pounding on a fresh, bubbling lava flow, courtesy of Haleakala. It took a millennia or more to be ground down into a beach. The beauty of the turquoise coastal beaches of Hawaii are almost indistinguishable from those of the Bahamas, French Polynesia, Malau, Hawaii, Cancun, Costa Rica, Florida, Maldives, Cuba, Fiji, Bora Bora, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Navagio Beach, Shipwreck Beach, Smugglers Cove, Zakynthos, Ionian Islands, or other tropical vacation travel destinations.
One TPG reader used the Google Flights tracker to score lie-flat seats to Hawaii. Photo by Getty Images.

A significant number of TPG readers don't obsess about tracking down the absolute best deal in the history of airfares. Rather, they suggest finding a price that works for you.

I research, then track the flight. I buy the ticket when I am comfortable at a price. I don't like the stress of waiting to save a few dollars. If it looks good, buy the ticket. — Pat B.
I usually book as early as possible and watch the fares. They fluctuate, but, in my opinion, they do not wildly drop (save some sort of sale), but they do wildly increase, especially on busy routes in high travel periods. I track the [ticket on] Yapta after a book (which lets you enter what you paid), and Google Flights before. I've gotten burned a few times trying to "time" my purchase. So now I pick my dates, usually via Google Flights, and just book based off that. — Bill F.
Google flights tracker. I set an ideal price and when I get to it or close enough I buy. Scored (relatively) inexpensive lie-flat seats to Hawaii from Austin via Denver. Even though still months off, the price has gone up $500 a ticket. — Lara S.
I usually pick a price I'd like to pay for the roundtrip and then set up price alerts for that trip along with just checking religiously. Once the price hits a place I'm comfortable paying, I book it, and don't think twice about it. Don't wanna gamble that it might go even lower, and lose out on a ticket I was willing to pay for. — Chris K.
I have a certain time frame that I want to travel in, and then I set up my alerts on Google flights for those dates and wait for the prices to hit my ideal range. Sometimes, like with my latest purchase, I'm inspired by an advertised deal and just go for it! — Jennifer P.

Personal tricks and tips

Some readers were able to offer specific tips they've learned from their own booking experiences.

Don't blindly trust the search engines. I was pricing LAX-TPE-NRT/HND-LAX for mid-summer. They kept insisting the cheapest I could get it for was $1,200. I ended up searching for the middle flight separately, and saved almost $300. If two segments are on the same carrier/alliance, but non-consecutive in the itinerary, it doesn't seem to price properly. — Jeremy C.
Separate one-way itineraries. Sometimes is cheaper than RT. — Joey R.
When you fly Southwest, you really do not have to worry about this, because you can always get the difference back in points or credit for a future flight. — Steve M.

And finally, one TPG reader suggests that booking airline tickets might just be a cure for insomnia...

I tend to book things in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep—and the satisfaction of another trip then makes me sleep well because I feel accomplished. — Carlye L.

We couldn't agree more — there's nothing better than drifting off to sleep with visions of a relaxing beach vacation dancing in your head.

Featured image by cash back. (Photo by @nina_p_v via Twenty20)