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Outsmart the Airline Algorithms for Cheaper Tickets

May 27th, 2014

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Summer is approaching quickly and with it, vacation season! We are all scouring the website looking for the best deals.  Should I go with this site, perhaps check it out in a different browser?  What if I wait a day?  Will the price go up, down?  Turns out, there is data that backs up conventional wisdom on finding cheap airline fares.  Check out these tips and tricks to help figure out what you should research before you book your next adventure.

Get creative with your destination airports

If we use California as an example, we see the following destination cities by average ticket price:

San Francisco, for example has a much higher average ticket price than Santa Rosa, a city about an hour north of San Francisco. Many search engines for flights provide an option to check airports close in the area for both departing and arrival cities. If your arrival city is flexible, look for cheaper airports in the area. You may even find some adventures off the beaten path and away from the tourist-packed cities.

Pick airports that have more airlines and cater to leisure travelers

There are certain airports that see more of a business traveler crowd, and others that see more vacationers. The type of traffic that an airport attracts can affect the ticket price quite a lot. In the following chart, you can see some of the “most fair” and “least fair” airports according to this New York Times blog.

The highest five midsize airports by average fare price in the chart above cater to business travelers. The lowest five airports cater to leisure travelers. Fayetteville, Arkansas, for example, is very close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Thus, Fayetteville airport is vastly overpriced, compared to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that caters to vacationers. Though I’m not sure if Fayetteville, Arkansas is highest on your vacation wish list anyway.

Go for the airlines that cater to vacationers

Below is a chart of average airfares across the United States by quarter and airline.

You can see in the chart above that there is a significant difference between an airline like United that caters to business travelers and Spirit or Allegiant. Both Spirit and Allegiant fly into smaller airports and cater to more leisure travelers.

The moral of the story? Do your research before you start planning your vacation. Consider airports, airlines, and dates. Those factors can have a huge bearing on how much you spend on your summer vacation.

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