It depends partly on whether you're willing to fly anywhere, or whether you want to fly somewhere. It's easiest to find fare bargains if you're willing to fly anywhere anytime, and most challenging to find bargains if you're wanting to fly to a specific place on a specific date. D'oh!
If you're looking for a specific destination, sign up for one of the available fare alerts, for example Travelocity's. There's no substitute for research and it's one of the reasons Kathy scans a multitude of travel e-mails in her inbox daily and spends a lot of time on the computer when trolling for trips. Another basic strategy is to check alternative departure and arrival airports whenever possible. Looking for fare bargains is easier when flying to places served by low-cost and profitable Southwest or upstarts such as Allegiant.
What inspired those general thoughts is a recent WSJ Middle Seat column by the excellent Scott McCartney, Why Online Fares Change Faster Than a 747. He specifically discusses the frustrating situation when, after all that research, you think you've found that cheap fare, only to have it switch to a higher one when you click on it. Confusion of this and other kinds abounds on the website of our preferred carrier, United, referred to less than affectionately by members of FlyerTalk as Dot Bomb.
His suggestions to "minimize the fare switcheroo" include
* Check multiple travel websites, including the airlines', before locking in a fare.
* Double-check prices by clicking through to book even if you don't want to book yet. That way you know the price is real. (Just don't enter a credit card number.)
* Be careful with close-to-departure shopping; prices fluctuate the most around two weeks before the flight.
* Be wary of monthly calendar views, which often contain estimated fares. They are basically guides, not real quotes.
* If you see prices jump, you might wait. Inventory management can bring the fare lower if there's no buying at higher prices.
You can read the entire column here.