Airline tickets. Hands down the most agonizing, frustrating and stress inducing piece of planning a trip to Italy. I wish I could lay out a specific formula that would guarantee the best rates for the perfect dates. Sadly, nothing like this exists. Not even close. What I can offer are my go to sites, some proven and researched facts, how to balance cost versus risk, and my two cents. This is a long post, stick with it to the end.
First, don’t become obsessed with finding the absolute cheapest fare. Your goal is to find a balance between a good price and optimal travel dates. It will do no good waiting endlessly for a fare price reduction as your favorite hotels book up their best and cheapest rooms. I would rather pay a few hundred dollars more for my plane ticket knowing that I was able to get into my first choice accommodation and build an itinerary that I want. Time is also money. The perfect itinerary is priceless.
HOW and WHERE to Search
When I have my approximate dates I start by first doing a general search on a big site. My favorite is Kayak. This gives me an idea of what is out there and what airlines are players. Then I go directly to the airlines’ websites to compare prices but even more importantly compare length of flights and layovers. On my most recent search, I found a great price on my ideal dates….with a 34 hour return flight. No thanks. But when I went to the carrier’s direct site I found more options for approximately the same price. Another reason I like to buy direct from the carrier is the assistance that can be given for any issues that come up with missed flights or travel trouble. I have experienced the unfortunate frustration of trying to get help from a big search site with zero results.
DETAILS to Keep in Mind
Connections. Those on the East Coast can board their planes with ease and enjoy direct flights to most locations. I will try to contain my jealousy. The rest of us have to worry about connections, and if you are like me and live in a rural area connections become a REALLY big deal. The key here is timing and location. Don’t be tempted by the siren’s call of a brief layover. That 45 minutes will cost you an entire travel day if missed. I make sure I have at least 90 minutes at my layovers. More if possible when flying into Heathrow in London where you also have to go through customs. My priority is getting to Europe as soon as I can. Delays within the States can cost my flight across the ocean because those are more infrequent, whereas a delay in Europe isn’t the end of the world.
Cookies. Be conscious of your searches. Don’t think the industry isn’t above making a little more money on your specific needs. I have witnessed first hand ‘sudden’ increases in prices on the same flights on repeat searches. Erase your cookies or use a different source when you are ready to purchase.
WHEN to Book
Most of the experts report that tickets to Europe should be purchased between 5-10 months before departure. I personally like to book 8-10 months ahead and I have found some decent prices between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regardless of HOW far ahead you book, there are certain times of the week you should purchase. Research shows Tuesday and Wednesday as the best days to buy. I like Tuesday mornings. Insiders claim that in addition to this, you should avoid the first few days, the very middle days and the last days of the month. When looking at WHICK days of travel, try to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Be mindful of holidays in both countries.
I plan on purchasing tickets this month, I’ve found several flights that are in my goal budget and my ideal dates. According to the above information, I have to ideal days to purchase them (see image). December 9-10 and 23-24. Now, I’m not sure if Christmas will affect the pricing so I will take those dates with a grain of salt.
For anyone trying to use their reward points and miles, good luck. All airlines have black out dates and limited seats on each flight. I have heard that booking a year out is the best way to get the dates you want to fly. I have found a wonderful resource called Book My Award where all they deal with is rewards travel. They work nothing short of miracles here.
SET UP Travel Alerts
Every website has the ability to sign up for travel alerts. I have several and I receive email notices when the fare drops or a special is posted. I find this is a handy way to keep track of any price trends.
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