Want a cheap summer vacation? The key is knowing where to go and when to fly.
1. When to fly
Fly early: If you’ll be traveling in the U.S. try squeezing in a vacation by early to mid-June. After that, prices rise and stay high through late August.
Fly late: Another cheap summer travel window opens up around the third week in August because lots of children go back to school. That’s when families quit flying, demand for airline tickets slacks off and prices drop.
Europe: We’ve seen deals to Europe year-round but fares always go up in June. If you must fly in summer wait until July when there is a small price dip. If you can wait until September, fly then; most fares drop significantly (and lines are shorter at major attractions).
Use technology: Many sites have simple deal-finding tools that show you which cities are cheapest during specific months or seasons; they are simple to use and take the tedium out of finding the best fares.
2. If you must fly in peak summer season
There are ways to save but most involve ditching the little luxuries of flying; not a bad trade-off though for a cheaper ticket. Suggested savings:
Fly unpopular days and time: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are cheaper days to fly. Cheaper times include flights at dawn and red-eyes or overnights. Two people I know recently flew from Los Angeles to Cincinnati at different times; the one who flew overnight paid $80 less than the morning traveler.
Forget aisle and window seats: If you can get a better seat for free, either through miles status or by flying an airline that offers a few decent seats for those who select early, go for it. If you have to pay, as is the case for so many discount carriers, forget it. If you’re traveling with young children, that’s one thing, but if it’s you and a friend, you’ll be together for the entire vacation, right?
Pack the cheapest bag: Airline baggage charges vary a lot but a general rule of thumb is, discounter airlines charge for all bags. Before you pack, check prices for suitcases and carryons and use the cheaper option.
3. Where to fly
How to make any city cheaper: Flying from a big city to another big city is generally the cheapest way to travel. If your destination is on the smaller side, see if there’s a big airport within driving distance (maybe three, four or even five hours away); compare fares to the big airport and the destination airport. The difference in price might make a long drive seem less of a pain. Or, if you live in a smallish town, see if you can depart from a larger hub. If your trip is more than just a few days, these drives may be worth it.
Cheaper U.S. cities: This can vary depending on where you live, but we’ve seen some very good deals throughout Southwest Florida as well as Boston, Denver, Las Vegas and Seattle.
Cheaper Europe cities: This has been a very good year for deals to London; other cheap cities are Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam and Dublin. Use the same deal-finding tool mentioned earlier to see which cities are bargains for you.
4. When to shop for summer
You can start right now. Give yourself at least three months lead-time for Europe and at least a month for flights in the U.S.
Rick Seaney is the CEO for FareCompare. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.