Tips for getting cheapest airfares

I'm anything but enthusiastic about the business uses of supposedly social media, but this one could grab me: Airlines are tweeting the availability of rock-bottom last-minute fares, according to Consumer Reports.

At a time when fares are creeping upward, that's a small piece of good news - and really the only actual surprise in a list of "How to land the best fare" tips that CR offered in an email promoting its latest report on airlines.  But since all the rest are evergreen, I'll pass them along as a reminder:

  1. Use social networks. Many airlines tweet deals. Two examples are @Frontier¬Sale and @JetBlueCheeps, where CR found a $10 one-way fare from San Francisco to Long Beach, Calif. But seats are limited. By some accounts, @UnitedAirlines’ Tware fares sell out within 2 hours.
  2. Sign up for promo codes. If you’re a member of an airline’s frequent-flyer program, you can often sign up for special promotion codes, which provide discounts from 10 to 50 percent. Promo alerts can be sent to you via e-mail, RSS feeds, Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, and other channels. But the deals expire quickly, so you’ll have to act fast. The trade-off? Your e-mail inbox can get flooded with offers that don’t interest you.
  3. Work the Web. More than 70 percent of respondents booked their own flights directly on an airline’s website. A smaller number, 55 percent, compared fares on other websites. For the best possible deals, you should cast that wider net. Start with websites that allow you to compare the deals from multiple airlines, such as Airfarewatchdog and Kayak. Also try travel-agency sites, such as CheapTickets, Expedia, and Travelocity. If you’re a bit more adventurous, Hotwire and, where you don’t know which airline you’re flying until after you book, are another option.
  4. Book early or late. You don’t need to book more than 90 days in advance. Booking about 21  days before your trip will usually get you a good fare. Price-comparison sites often let you sign up for alerts that will tell you when prices drop. Many sales are posted late Monday or early Tuesday making it a good time to shop, but bargains can appear at any time.
  5. Be flexible. Shifting dates by a day or two often allows you to nab a much lower price. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly. If you’re traveling with a group, consider splitting up your party. If you have four in your group and there are only two cheap seats available, online reservation systems will give everyone higher-price seats. Instead, check the price for one, two, and three seats on the plane, as well as for all four before booking.