Booking flights is tricky business. Ticket prices can skyrocket at seemingly random times, and travel experts are always coming up with new theories for how and when to score the best deals. So when you're tracking flight prices for the next family vacation, when's the ideal time to pull the trigger?
Theories aside, you can't deny data. Last year, Expedia partnered with Airlines Reporting Corporation (which has information on nearly 12.5 billion passenger flights) to analyze worldwide air travel data spanning from Jan. 1, 2016 to Oct. 24, 2016. The study released in December 2016 answered the question travelers have been clamoring over for years: Sunday is the best day to book.
Purchase Your Tickets on Sunday
The study, called New Heights for Air Travel, found that weekends (and especially Sundays) tend to have the lowest air ticket prices, whereas Fridays have the highest. According to the study, average ticket prices are 50 percent lower on Sundays than they are on Fridays.
This is true for both business and leisure travel, according to the study, and applies for flights within the United States as well as those heading from the United States to Europe or Asia. To save on ticket prices, buy on a Sunday.
Book Three Weeks in Advance
Here's another argument travelers love: How far in advance should you book your flights? New Heights for Air Travel answers that one, as well.
For flights departing from the United States, travelers save 17 percent on domestic flights and 30 percent on flights to Europe if they book at least 21 days in advance. Another study conducted by CheapAir.com found that the best time to book a domestic flight is, on average, 54 days in advance. This time period varies between regions—75 days in advance for flights to Canada or Mexico, 120 days in advance for flights to Europe, and 70 days in advance to go to Latin America.
Bundle Flights and Hotels
Another piece of advice for your family vacation planning: Take care of air tickets and lodging in one fell swoop.
Online travel agencies often offer discounted bundles if you book your flight, hotel and/or rental car all at once. According to Expedia's study, when you bundle, you can save upwards of $600 per person per trip.
Include Saturday Night
If you're booking flights for a trip that includes a Saturday night, you're in luck: Airlines tend to file cheaper airfares for trips with Saturday night stays.
If you're flying domestically in the United States, for example, you can expect to save about 19 percent on your itinerary if it includes a Saturday night stay. Flights within Europe can yield significantly larger savings. But this trick doesn't apply everywhere—when booking flights in Asia, including a Saturday night probably won't make a difference, or could even make the tickets pricier.
Consider a Red-Eye
Maybe this is where you draw the line—taking the kids on an overnight flight might sound, well, impossible. But it's not, and it could be worth the savings.
Red-eyes tend to be cheaper and less crowded than regular flights, potentially meaning more room to stretch your legs and a little extra overhead bin space for your bags and carry-on luggage.
As for the kids, your best bet is to go into the trip prepared. Try to make sure the whole family is as well-rested as possible going into the flight, meaning regular bedtimes for the week leading up to it. Make sure everyone's bathed, in comfortable clothes and equipped with snacks before boarding the flight, to help ensure the best on-flight sleep possible.
Prepare the kids for what's to come on an overnight flight: Yes, movies are available on the plane, but bedtimes still apply. Yes, they will probably have to sleep sitting up. If they know exactly what the plan is going into the flight, it might help the experience unfold more smoothly.
Finally, consider booking an airport hotel for after landing, to help minimize the travel required from your family once your flight touches down.
Avoid Checking Bags
Checked luggage can not only tack on extra fees for your trip, but it gives you and the family just one more task to complete after your flight lands. Avoid spending more time and money than necessary, and make sure your bags fit the standard carry-on size (most commonly, 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches)—maybe even steal some space from the kids' bags, if you have to.
Remember Deals for Babies
Children older than 14 days but younger than 2 years usually get to fly and stay in hotels for free, so consider the benefits of traveling when your kid is still a baby. Flying with a newborn may seem daunting, but once you master the art, those savings can add up quickly.
Usually, you can take advantage of the free baby pass only if you plan to keep your infant on your lap. If you want a car seat for the child instead, you will most likely have to purchase a boarding pass, though most airlines will also offer infant fares in these cases.
If you plan to keep your infant on your lap, be prepared to present a birth certificate to verify that your child is younger than 2. On a domestic flight, you will probably need some boarding verification documentation for your baby for the airline you're using. If you're on an international flight, expect to pay some taxes and fees for your child's flight.
For your older children, check with your airline to see if it offers a child's fare—Southwest Airlines, for example, offers discounted ticket prices for children ages 2 through 11.
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