Saving on airfare: Frequent flier miles, airfare sales, and low fare guarantees

Airfares are sky high right now for certain airports. If you live in Ohio, you’ll pay some of the highest fares in the country. Cincinnati charges the highest prices, and Cleveland follows in ninth place. There are some things you can do to reduce the price, but don’t expect as many options as in the past.

Fares go on sale on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, they are not that good anymore. Most weeks the big airports and major routes are discounted, and that’s it. Occasionally, you’ll have a system wide sale.

Right now, there is an airfare sale on American, Air Tran, Southwest, and Delta. The airlines are advertising $60-80 one way flights. Don’t get too excited. The routes with those fares are hard to find in Northeast Ohio.

The sale on Delta is very exclusive and only includes departures from Atlanta and Detroit. The sale on American doesn’t offer many good flights out of Cleveland. Air Tran is offering some discounted rates out of Akron Canton Airport.  You can go to Atlanta for $99 one way, and New York LaGuardia for $104 one way.

With most sales, the cities are selective and there are a lot of blackout dates. Don’t expect these airfares to be good for travel around the holidays. You’ll pay top dollar to fly then, unless you fly on the holiday. I noticed some of the blackout dates don’t include the holiday itself. For example, Air Tran’s blackout days are several days before and after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday but the actual day itself is not a blackout date. Consider flying on the holiday to save.

Fares are so high anything under $300 is really a good deal. If you are flying out of Cleveland, the average airfares is $450.

Cashing in frequent flier miles
You can also consider cashing in frequent flier miles. Depending on the airline and when you decide to cash them in you may get a good value for your miles or you may not. It depends on the airline and when you’re traveling. It is still possible to get a good deal for your miles over the holidays is still possible.

Our trip to visit family over the holidays typically costs us $300. I think we paid $350 one year. This holiday the price is $575. It hasn’t budged, and I don’t expect it will. Nonstop flights out of Cleveland stay pretty consistent. At least for the routes I fly, because I check them all the time.

I couldn’t stomach paying $575 per ticket to fly home for the holidays. I looked at other airports, and nothing really worked for our schedule. The savings at alternate airports wouldn’t make much of a difference when you take into consideration the extra time. Plus, around the holidays you could hit bad weather in the air or on the ground so we wanted to minimize our travel.

I decided to look into the possibility of cashing in my miles. I never thought it would even be possible because the airlines have cut back on frequent flier mile availability and you have to book these trips far in advance. Also, as the prices have gone up some airlines have increased the number of miles you need for a reward.

I booked a reward trip this spring for a trip to Florida in May and needed 40,000 miles because the airfare was around $400. I was desperate so I cashed in my miles, but 40,000 is double what you should need for a roundtrip airfare.

When I looked for the holidays, I was fully expecting to use 40,000 miles again. It was a different airline than my trip in May, and I was shocked to find I only needed 20,000. I couldn’t believe it. So, I booked the reward trip and we bought one ticket at $575. It’s still a lot of money, but I’d rather pay $575 for one ticket than two.

You really need to watch the fares everyday. Setup an airfare alert through a travel site like Airfarewatchdog or FareCompare. You will be alerted when the sales are in effect for your routes. Finally, look at cashing in miles or alternate airports to save money.

Low fare guarantees
Should you buy or should you wait? Some travel experts say there are flash sales if the plane doesn’t fill up, but it’s risky to wait. It is an option for you, though. Just watch the seat map to see if the seats are selling. Most booking sites have a link to the seat map next to the fare.

Airfarewatchdog founder, George Hobica, also recommends buying on an airline that will refund your money if the fare later drops. This means you have to keep checking that fare after you book it. You won’t get cash back, but you’ll get a credit. Still better than nothing.

Airfarewatchdog said Southwest, Airtran, Alaska, and JetBlue allow you to get a credit toward the fare difference. There is not a written policy for some of these airlines, but you can rebook your travel without any extra fees and you’ll get a credit for the difference. The airfare alert site put together a chart with the policies. Many of the other airlines charge $150 to make a change to your itinerary.

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3 responses to “Saving on airfare: Frequent flier miles, airfare sales, and low fare guarantees

  1. I think for the average joe, fares are out of sight, and less people are using the airlines as a mode of transportation. For a holiday visit the fares are so costly that it cuts down on presents or time spent at their location. Also, people are getting VERY tired at the check-in process as they don’t feel like they should be treated like criminals, and the length of time involved.

    • Glenn, Thanks for the comment. I think the fares this year will have many people re-considering. The airlines will still make money because there are fewer planes flying so fewer seats to sell. $450 is out of control which is why I’ve been finding other ways to get that fare down like cashing in miles. I don’t think they’ll drop anytime soon, though. At least not in NEO.

      • Jenn: You probably travel more than many people, so you have some miles to cash in. Many travelers who make just once in awhile trip won’t have any to cash in. Also you see many airlines merging because they cannot stand alone anymore.