It never fails: You spot a great airfare fare online, talk it over with your friends or family, and go back online to snag it. But the price has leapt $50 or more per person. Such a downer.
Is there a foolproof way to score a great airfare, especially now with the holidays looming? Or are you out of luck?
We went to Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, for some answers. The bad news is that the best fares probably are already gone. The good news is that the long holiday period this year — stretching from Saturday, Dec. 22, to Tuesday, Dec. 25 — makes it easier to find a great fare, especially if you're flexible.
"It's late in the game to be booking a holiday trip," admits Klee, "but it's still possible to get a deal. There are some factors this year that improve your odds. Christmas is in the middle of the week, which is better for consumers because there are more combinations of days that will work for people. "
And that's the key, Klee says, to finding a bargain: Search persistently to locate a low-cost combination of days.
"Check every combination of flights you may be able to take, from every airport you have access to. And check frequently, because fairs change constantly." Founded in 1989 when Klee was still in college, CheapAir.com has evolved as the industry has changed. The website offers email trackers that alert users when prices dip.
In general, consumers have a difficult time finding cut-rate fares — holiday or non-holiday -- because the airlines have become incredibly sophisticated about adjusting fares on each flight in real time, says Klee.
"It all depends on how full the flight is. If a flight is filling up, the price goes up."
Does it help to buy your ticket far in advance? Not necessarily. "Studies have shown that the sweet spot is about six weeks in advance. "
He also advises travelers who know in advance that they're going to be taking a trip to start checking fares daily as soon as they can. "If you check regularly, you'll get a sense of when it's a good deal and know when to buy."
But don't wait for the rock-bottom rate, he advises. "You'll never get it."