Friday, July 3, 2009

Academic Travel on a Frugal Budget: Finding the Cheapest Airline Ticket

Searching for the cheapest airline ticket for academic conferences can be a daunting task sometimes, but I strive to pay the least amount for my air travel. Here is a personal guide that I follow when purchasing an airline ticket.

a) Find the HUB - Try to find the hub for the major airlines in your area. For example, when I lived in the Houston area, I flew Continental Airlines. Houston International Airport is one of the many hubs for Continental Airlines. Therefore, their airline tickets will usually be less expensive than other airlines that fly from that hub. Since I live in the DFW area, the Southwest Airlines and American Airlines tickets are usually cheaper than the tickets from other airlines. However, this has not been the case for the past few months.

b) Arrive or Depart on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday - Usually, these days are the cheapest arrival or departure dates for airline tickets.

c) Make Monday - Wednesday Your Purchase Dates - It seems the airline rates tend to increase after Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I will usually check a particular route that I am interested in after I receive the weekly special from Continental Airlines and American Airlines on Monday afternoons. Monday is usually their "reset" date for airfares.

d) Compare Your Rates With Other Airlines - I will usually submit my route to (formerly This website compares the rates from This website will usually tell you the rates from AirTran, American Airlines, etc. For example, I used this website to search for a fare from DFW to IAH (Thu, Jul 23 - Thu, Jul 30|1 adult) and here are the results:

AirTran - $547

American - $118
Continental - $116

Delta - $547

Frontier - $487
US Airways - $497
United - $497

In addition, this website enables you to see if the rates are projected to increase or decrease in the future. However, I used this feature last summer to find the cheapest rates to San Diego and the website told me the rates were projected to decrease. The rates were already inexpensive ($250 or less), but I wondered if the rate would decrease. The next day, the rate increased to $325. Since that point, I decided to use the website for comparison purposes only.

e) Continue to Monitor the Airfare Rates - Most websites suggest that people purchase their airline tickets around 90 days before the travel date. However, continue to monitor the websites for sharp decreases before the 90 day period. For example, I purchased a ticket for the National Communication Association Conference in Chicago, IL for slightly less than $200.00 (I monitored this rate since April 2009).

I hope to offer more tips as I purchase additional tickets for the fall/spring semester. If you have any additional tips, please let me know! Contribute a comment!

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