No question about it, airfares on some routes are higher than they were four or five years ago. But let's not forget that, adjusted for inflation, most fares are actually lower than they were 10 or 20 years ago. That said, here is some advice for making your airfare dollars go further.
1 SEARCH OFTEN, OVER A LONG LEAD TIME, AND POUNCE WHEN THERE'S A DEAL Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently. So if you don't like the fare at 10 a.m., check at 2p.m. or the next day or the next week and pounce when the fare is affordable.
2 SIGN UP FOR AIRFARE ALERTS BY EMAIL Many travel websites offer emailed airfare alerts, letting you know when fares go down. They all work a bit differently, so sign up for more than one. Do a browser search for "airfare alerts" and you'll see what's available.
3 SIGN UP FOR THE AIRLINES' EMAIL FEEDS AND FREQUENT FLIER PROGRAMS The airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals, such as 50 percent off promo codes or twofers, if you sign up for their emails.
4 USE TWITTER Email is great Email is great, but some of the most amazing airfare deals last only a short time, or you open the email too late. Twitter is more immediate. @Airfarewatchdog, for example, tweets unusual airfare deals every day of the week.
5 BE A FLEXIBLE TRAVEL DATE FLIER Many sites (Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity and Expedia among them) have eliminated their flexible date calendars, but Kayak.com still has a good one (register under flights/more options/flex month). Another good site is Adioso.com. Google has two sites worth exploring: google.com/flights/explore and google.com/flights.
6 SEARCH AIRLINE SITES INDIVIDUALLY International airlinesInternational airlines such as Aer Lingus, Iberia and Qantas regularly offer lower fares (i.e., $100-$400 less) on their own websites compared to what you'll find on Kayak or Orbitz. But don't ignore online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity, because these sites will tell you if it's cheaper flying out on one airline and back on another.
7 USE PRICELINE FOR LAST-MINUTE TRIPS If you don't have a seven-, 14-, or 21-day advance purchase window to buy your fare, your best bet is the "name your own price" feature of Priceline.com. True, you won't know the exact flight times or airline you're flying until you pay for your trip, but you can save 50 percent or more.
8 USE CONSOLIDATORS, BUT BEWARE OF THE RESTRICTIONS Consolidators specializing in premium cabins will have some great deals, and the airlines themselves often will heavily discount their premium cabins in the summer and just before Christmas, so check the specials on their websites. Sites like Vayama.com, Airfare.com and Asia.com sometimes sell consolidator fares.
9 CONSIDER THE EXTRA FEES BEFORE YOU BUY If Southwest has a fare of $198 round-trip and United has one for $148, and you are checking three bags, then Southwest actually has the lower fare because Southwest charges nothing for the first two checked bags, whereas United would charge you an additional $165 each way for three.
10 COMBINE TWO SEPARATE FARES If you're flying to a destination in Europe, you might save money by purchasing one fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, and another from Dublin onward on Ryanair.com (just beware of Ryanair's hefty fees). Same holds true for some destinations in Asia and to some smaller Caribbean destinations. Give yourself plenty of time between connecting flights.
11 USE ALTERNATE AIRPORTS CREATIVELY Is the fare from Miami to London Heathrow too high? See if flying from Fort Lauderdale to London Gatwick on Norwegian Air Shuttle is cheaper (it probably is). Heading to Tokyo? Search to Tokyo Haneda Airport as well as to the better-known Narita. Look at a map and save.
12 BUY TICKETS ON AN AIRLINE THAT WILL REFUND THE DIFFERENCE IF A FARE GOES DOWN Let's say you've found the lowest fare, then the day after purchase, your nonrefundable fare for the same itinerary goes down. If you ask for it you can get a refund for the difference. But some airlines will charge you a costly "administrative" fee of $200 or more, wiping out any savings. Others will give you the entire fare difference in the form of a travel voucher.