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Tips for Finding Cheap Airfares

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Finding a cheap airfare does not involve luck or magic. It is a matter of searching in the right places for the right prices. Here are 10 suggestions -- in no particular order -- for finding low-priced airline tickets and giving your travel budget a break.

1. Look at Airline Sites Offering Deals

Mark Kahler, licensed to About.com
Mark Kahler, licensed to About.com
Some people reject airline Web deals as hype without substance. That's frequently a mistake. Airlines typically mark down the seats that are empty on an upcoming flight. They'll put these deals on their "last minute bargain" page. Here are links to some of the better bargain pages for airlines on each continent.

2. Consider Five Basics

One of the toughest parts of airfare shopping is simply getting started. Here are five techniques you can employ at the start to focus on the best fares without spending all day on the Internet.

3. Don't Miss the Details

Should you book your flight to Moscow through Germany or Iceland? It would help to know what each country charges in taxes. Why is my sale fare 30% higher when I get to the Internet check-out? It pays to examine airfares with a careful eye. You'll be surprised how small fees and taxes can amount to big add-ons.

4. Start with a Realistic "Base Price"

Would you like to know how much someone paid earlier today for the route you are searching right now? How about the best price in the past week? Getting an idea of the going base price for a given ticket will help you sort out bargains and bloated fares. There are Internet tools designed to help you with this important task.

5. Take a Long Look at Budget Carriers

Budget carriers do business in a way you might not like. They sometimes charge more for heavy baggage or an inflight snack. On occasion, they use remote, small airports. But if you can put up with the quirks, you can find real savings. Look at easyJet and others like it to see if this option is for you.

6. Manage Flier Miles to Full Advantage

Would it surprise you to know that airlines value frequent flier miles as much or more than you do? Frequent flier programs encourage brand loyalty. But beyond that, airlines also love these programs because many travelers squander their free travel options. You must find ways to monitor your stash of mileage, and you must know when spending cash for a ticket might be more advantageous than forking over flier miles.

7. Use Internet Tools to Track Airfares

No one has time to sit in front of a monitor and watch airfares all day. Fortunately, there are Internet tools available to you that do the watching for you. The five tools listed here have strengths and weaknesses. In any given situation, one might point out a much better fare than another, with the reverse true during the very next search. Try several of them at the same time and see where the deals pop up for you.

8. Consider a Mileage Credit Card

It's not an option that works for everyone, because these credit cards charge fairly hefty interest rates. But if you simply use credit as "plastic money" and pay off your balances, the mundane purchases in your life can pay for some very nice trips. The next step is to decide whether an airline card or a bank card works best for you. Evaluate your geographic location and your travel habits as you make the decision.

9. Flying Within Europe Actually Saves Money

Twenty years ago, no one would recommend intra-European flights for budget-conscious travelers. Today, depending upon your itinerary, it might be cheaper to fly between major cities than to take the well-established rail system. Remember that the time you save is also money in the bank, because it enhances the value of your trip. Just don't take this advice to the extreme: There is also value in seeing the countryside.

10. Shop for Airports

Car keys as tools for saving on airfares? Since airfares are based in large part on competition along similar routes, the economics of air travel dictate charging different fares for different cities. It is almost always worth the effort to check airports within a 100-mile radius of your home airport. Some budget travelers check within 200 miles.
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