9 ways that TPG’s staff members are beating expensive summer airfare
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If you’ve priced airfare for a summer vacation, you may have already experienced your share of sticker shock. And we’re here to say: It’s not just you.
Thanks to a combination of pent-up demand, limited capacity, inflation, fuel costs, old-fashioned seasonal demand and more, the flight deals of the last couple of years are much fewer and further between this summer.
In fact, airfare is up 40% from the beginning of the year, according to Hopper. The average domestic round-trip ticket is currently pricing at $330 — and is estimated to be on its way up another 10%, to an average price of $360, in May. That’s higher than 2019 averages and is actually the highest domestic airfare prices that Hopper has seen since the company started collecting and tracking that information.
And of course, those are just averages. The domestic round-trip economy ticket you want this summer could easily be $500, $600 or even over $700.
There’s no one magical way to avoid running face-first into airfare prices that may be higher than we’ve seen in recent times, but there are things you can do to prevent those costs from melting your summer vacation plans.
Here are 9 ways that TPG staffers are beating — or at least avoiding — paying high airfare costs this summer.
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Book now, rebook if the price goes down
TPG staffers Tarah Chieffi and Christine Smith are outsmarting pricey summer airfare by leaning into flexible change and cancellation policies and rebooking their tickets if the price drops.
While most airlines have done away with change fees, not all airlines allow you to retain the value for future use on a less expensive ticket. Historically, Southwest has had the most liberal rebooking policies where you can easily change your flight and keep any savings as travel funds for future use.
Now is a great time to brush up on whether you can reprice — or rebook — tickets with your air carrier of choice.
Track the price of your ticket and book when it drops
Director of Content Nick Ewen is outwitting the inflated prices of air tickets using programs to track airfare prices on the flights he is most interested in taking. There are a number of ways to track the price of your air ticket.
One of the easiest platforms for tracking flight prices is on Google Flights, where you can set a price alert by ticking the “Track prices” box.
You will then be notified via email of price increases and decreases. You can also see historic prices for your route, so you know whether you’re potentially overpaying.
Be strategic about which days you fly
Senior SEO Associate Hannah Streck looks for flights at off times and on non-peak days before booking. Although this is not a new strategy, it may be more useful than ever this summer.
Looking, for example, at nonstop, one-way flights this July from Philidelphia to Houston, you can pay anywhere from $136 to $479 one-way for your tickets depending on when you decide to travel.
If you can avoid the weekends around July Fourth, you can dramatically cut your airfare costs.
In fact, Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle recently told the Associated Press, “While (demand) is great, it’s still not great in all the off-peak periods. While Fridays and Sundays are great, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, not so much.”
Dramatic price fluctuations from one day of the week to the next seem to back up that statement.
Don’t forget to check nearby airports, too, when you are traveling to an area with multiple options.
Choose your destination based on the deals
Senitra Horbrook, TPG credit cards editor, doesn’t have date flexibility, but she chooses her entire destination based on the available deals. This can be a great way to find the best airfare possible.
Google Flights, again, is probably the best platform for finding discount airfare based on any destination.
You can use the “explore” tab to type in your origin airport(s). When you leave the destination blank, a map appears. At this point, you can select your dates of travel or leave that flexible to show the lowest prices within the next six months.
Searching this way, I was able to find some incredible deals from my home airport of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Lima, Peru, for $435 round-trip, New York City for $152 round-trip, Lisbon, Portugal, for $376 round-trip and New Delhi for $660 round-trip.
Jump on deal alerts
Clint Henderson, our managing editor for news, jumps on deal alerts as soon as they publish at TPG. We routinely publish travel deals as they come up, and you’re always welcome to check out the latest here.
There are also a variety of subscription-based platforms that will notify you of deal alerts. These platforms send you notifications when there are flight deals from your home airport. Occasionally, you’ll also be notified of mistake fares.
Some of the most popular websites for deal alerts are Scott’s Cheap Flights, Next Vacay and Dollar Flight Club. Although you’ll be paying for a monthly or annual subscription, if you rely on deal alerts, you can justify the subscription cost after booking just one or two heavily discounted flights.
Book via a program with price assurance
If you hold a Capital One credit card eligible for the Capital One travel portal, consider booking your flight with Capital One for the price drop protection benefit. If Capital One’s algorithm advises you to book your flight now and the price later drops in price, you’ll receive an automatic refund, contingent upon your ticket’s exchange policy.
That’s what happened to TPG reporter Chris Dong, who booked a domestic flight within Chile. The Capital One algorithm encouraged him to book now. A couple of days later, he received an email from Capital One with the subject line, “Good news! You’re getting a refund.”
This refund was completely unexpected and a pleasant surprise. Best of all, he didn’t have to set any alerts or make any calls. It was done completely automatically.
Companion vouchers are more valuable when prices are high
Companion vouchers can be a lifesaver when cash prices go through the roof. That’s how TPG Social Media Marketing Manager Colby Kirkpatrick saved $700 on a flight this summer. With $800-plus round-trip flights on Alaska Airlines between John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Portland International Airport (PDX), Colby and his companion would have needed to spend $1,634.40 for the two of them. Thanks to the Alaska Airlines companion pass, however, the second ticket was just $135.63 ($99 + taxes and fees) instead of $817.20.
Delta Air Lines also offers a companion certificate, but if you hold the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, your ticket must be in the L, U, T, X or V fare class. As a result, availability can be limited; also, only the primary traveler accrues miles.
Southwest’s companion pass is another great way to save on summer travel. Once you achieve companion pass status with Rapid Rewards, you can nominate a companion who can travel with you on all your flights. While you’ll still need to pay for a ticket for yourself, your companion just needs to pay the taxes and fees. You are able to change your companion to another person up to three times per year.
Use up all those canceled flight vouchers you’re sitting on
“Some day” is now, so all those canceled flight vouchers you may still be sitting on from 2020 and 2021 need to be used before they expire or you forget about them.
If you can’t quite remember what you have available, log in to your airline accounts, and check to see what you have.
You can also see what you have in travel credits by going to these links:
Cash those miles in without regret
Don’t expect your airline miles to be the savior this summer that washes away the pain of high-demand travel days.
Unfortunately, due to the industry’s move toward increasingly variable award pricing, it’s very likely that the most expensive days to fly with cash will be equally as expensive with miles.
But remember that airline miles aren’t going to pay your rent or fill your gas tank. If none of the other strategies to save on airfare do the trick, TPG’s Director of Content, Summer Hull, suggests that you burn those miles and don’t look back.
Hull had to employ this strategy herself because her oldest child’s out-of-state summer camp dates are fixed — and expensive. Spending 30,000 miles for a domestic, one-way ticket in economy wasn’t nearly as exciting as putting it toward an international business-class award, but keeping $400 each way in the bank account is still a win.
Airfare costs are stacking up to be higher this summer than we’ve experienced in recent years. That medium-haul, domestic round trip in economy may easily price at $600-700 per person if you are looking to travel over the busiest weekends. However, there are still ways to make relatively small tweaks and use tools to bring your costs down.
If you have to suck it up and travel at the highest-demand times, there are still companion vouchers, miles and points available to at least minimize the impact to your wallet.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull
Featured image by Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images.
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