There are a number of strategies that people swear by when buying airline tickets, from buying tickets months in advance to only looking for flights on certain days of the week. While the usefulness of these strategies is questionable, there’s one money-saving tip all travelers should use when looking for flights, says Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
When purchasing airline tickets for a group of people, Keyes recommends always comparing fares for the entire group to the price for just one or two seats on the same flight.
Airlines usually sell their tickets in “buckets,” Keyes tells CNBC Make It. That means a flight can have 10 tickets available for $99, 15 tickets available for $129, another 30 available for $149, and so on. When a cheaper bucket sells out, customers looking for flights will see more expensive tickets.
That means if a family of four is looking for a flight, the airline’s ticketing system will only show them tickets in a bucket that still has room for four seats.
“If there are only two seats left in the cheapest bucket, and you need three tickets, they will bump you to the next bucket,” Keyes says. “To my knowledge, virtually all airlines use this ‘bucket-fare’ method to sell tickets.”
On a recent trip from Portland, Oregon to New York, Keyes was looking for plane tickets for three. When he looked at the price for three seats, he was offered three tickets for $178 each. But when he changed his quest to two passengers, the cost of a ticket dropped to $117 each.
This is because the system had two tickets left in the $117 bucket and automatically bumped it to the more expensive bucket when it searched for all three at once. He ended up buying two tickets for $117 and one for $178.
“I ended up saving $120 by booking a la carte rather than as a whole group,” he says. “It won’t work every time, but knowing that you should always check to see if it will be cheaper to book fewer tickets in one go is an easy way to often save a lot of money.”
Keyes also recommends that people using this method call the airline after purchasing their tickets to combine the separate itineraries into a single reservation.
“That way everyone is treated together rather than two of the people being put on a different flight than the third person,” he says.
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