Saving on summer travel

Trying to book a summer vacation? You want to plan early, and look at every option possible. It’s like a perfect storm of fewer flights and high gas prices. The result — sky-high airfares. Just what I don’t need for my guests at my destination wedding this summer.

I’ve been checking the three major cities where our guests will be departing to alert them to good deals. Out of Kansas City, I’ve found some decent fares on Air Tran. These days, anything below $300 is a good fare even if it’s barely below $300.

That’s rule #1 – don’t expect to fly for less than $300 this year. If you get a flight cheaper, you’ll feel like you got a bargain. If you pay a little more, you won’t feel too ripped off.

Some airports are nearly impossible to find deals. For example, Hartford, CT is notoriously an expensive airport to fly through. For me, it’s a must because that’s where my family lives. It’s not worth the savings to fly to Boston or New York because those airports present entirely different travel headaches.

The average fare to my wedding out of Hartford is $400-500. What’s odd is that it doesn’t matter if you’re flying Memorial Day weekend, which is a busy travel weekend as it kicks off summer, or a random week in August. The flights are exactly the same, and they’re not budging.

Despite the high airfares to Florida out of Hartford, there are deals to other cities. Rule #2 – you might just have to be flexible with your travel cities. I found a random flight for just over $150 to fly to Cleveland, and Hopkins is an expensive airport to fly in and out of as well. Look beyond your normal travel destinations and you might find a summer deal.

Rule #3 – keep searching. The night before I found the $150 deal, the flight was $200 higher. It’s unreal how they fluctuate. The flight wasn’t full so clearly they were trying to sell seats, but are these constant swings really necessary? I don’t have time to check fares every day.

Airfare alerts are a great way to stay on top of the deals. I like Airfarewatchdog  and FareCompare. I also sign up for deal alerts from the airlines. They’ll take some of the guessing out of it for you.

If you’re really desperate to get somewhere and flexible, name your own price on Priceline. I like the site, but haven’t bid on an airfare in years. Too many times, I got burnt with long layovers and endless flights. There is a bit of a price if you want to save money. Remember, time is money.

Rule #4 – if you want to cash in on frequent flier miles expect to pay dearly. Ignore the mileage charts because they don’t even make sense. The days of 25,000 mile round trip frequent flier trips are gone.

I have to get down to Florida Memorial Day weekend for some wedding logistics, so I have to cash in miles for the trip. It’s that or pay $500+ for the trip. According to the mileage chart, it should cost me 12,000-30,000 miles for an airfare. The real cost is 40,000 miles. The chart shows 12,000 as a low and 30,000 as a high. So, what’s 40,000? Extremely overpriced!

According to the same chart, those 40,000 miles should get me to Central America. That would be on the high-end. The high-end for Hawaii is 45,000 miles. I ran a bunch of date combinations and it didn’t seem to matter when you were flying. Expect to pay 40,000 miles.

There are 12,000 mile flights, but they are few and far between. You might have to fly odd times, to odd airports, or different airlines.

It’s the new reality as airfares are sky-high, so the cost of getting one for free is sky-high. Just enjoy the free flight, and don’t think about how many flights you had to take to get that free one.