Tip For Finding Lowest Price for Airfare

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Most of us want to get the best deal possible for airfare, but are you really booking the lowest price out there, or are you discounting lots of very cheap tickets because they aren’t on your carrier(s) of choice?  If you are only looking on your preferred airline’s website for fares I can guarantee you are sometimes over paying, and if there is a hefty list of airlines that you won’t fly on, then I can also guarantee that you are probably not getting anywhere near the “cheapest” ticket for some flights.

I’m not here to judge because I’m pretty loyal to United Airlines.  I’m not loyal because I think they are amazing (they’re not), but because they operate the most nonstop flights out of my airport (by far), have a good frequent flyer program, and being loyal to them means I get to earn and utilize some elite perks that are currently valuable for my frequently flying family.  I’ll pay a little bit more for that convenience for my family when we fly.


Good view regardless of the carrier!

However, I’m not a blind loyalist, and you shouldn’t be either.  In fact most of us shouldn’t be loyal to anything other than our wallets.  There’s a certain price threshold where I’m fine skipping out on flying one of the big legacy carriers and will fly on one of the discount carriers like Spirit Airlines.  However, you are only going to know the price for some of those airlines if you take the time to look.  As you will see, sometimes the savings is significant.  Here are just a few examples where the low cost carrier was the winner – sometimes by a big margin.

Houston – Atlanta RT October 14 -October 15

Spirit Airlines (nonstop) $116.48  And this doesn’t even count missing the $30 each way sale

American Airlines (connection at DFW) $281

United (nonstop) $533+

Houston – Denver RT May 20 – May 21

Spirit Airlines (nonstop) $117

Frontier (nonstop) $183

Delta (connection at MEM) $272

United (connection at AUS) $365

United (nonstop) $719

Austin – Las Vegas RT June 2 – June 6

Allegiant (nonstop) $130

United (connection at SFO) $283

Delta (connection at SLC) $322

Dallas (Love Field) – San Francisco RT November 6 – November 9

Virgin America (nonstop) $158  Go here to learn about this sale celebrating the launch of this and other routes

Delta (connection at ATL) $202

United (connection at IAH) $283

Austin – New York RT November 25 – November 28

JetBlue (nonstop) $280

Delta (nonstop) $309

American (nonstop) $348

In these limited examples, the low cost carrier was not just the price winner, but was often the winner over the legacy carriers in terms of routing.  Naturally that won’t always be the case, but it pays to check and be familiar with the carriers in/out of your home airport.  Of course you also need to factor in the potential costs of things like checked bags or seat assignments with some (but not all) of these low cost carriers.  Some such as Southwest and Allegiant Air you have to check pricing information directly on their websites as their tickets aren’t available via other online sites like Hipmunk.  Since many of the low cost carriers tie their frequent flyer programs to a fixed value type of point, when the price is low the points/miles price, will also be low.

Do you consider low cost carriers in your airfare searches?  How much does the savings have to be for you to leave “your airline”?  Which carriers will you not fly no matter how much you save?


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  1. MP, note that in a couple of your examples, if Saver award space is available on United, it could be a reasonably cost-effective option. Ditto booking a lower fare on a connecting flight, then using your same-day change privileges to switch to the nonstop.

    I won’t fly Spirit (or Ryanair), period. (I guess I’m one of those over-entitled first-world fancy-pants people. Well, if the fare difference was $1,000, I guess I might. But then a Standard Award on one of the legacies would probably make sense.)

  2. @UAPhil You really can’t bring elite benefits into the consideration like that. Yes later United flights can be cheaper but you’re really not buying the same thing. One is only available <24 hours and only if there is space. You also risk spending the whole day at the airport and time is money.

    Also in all of these examples you would be getting less than 1.5c per mile for saver awards which is not great value. Save those miles for international business class.

    I used to bring upgrades into consideration. However even as a 1K your chances are really pretty slim these days, it seems United just doesn't value repeat customers.

  3. I ran into this question yesterday. For non stops from MCI to ORD for the advanced seminar in late September:

    United $244. I’d get Economy Plus since I have the subscription.
    AA $219. times better than United
    Spirit $117.

    The only reason I’m even thinking about United is that I have a voucher that might expire.

    Spirit may suck but it is only an hour flight. How bad could it be???

  4. Flying Spirit is endorsing their insane, super-LCC, debase yourself for savings, unbundle the lavatories if they could business model. If you love air travel, just say no.

  5. nice- IF the Spirit flight has enough customers to actually take off and IF Spirit doesn’t find hundreds of dollars of incidental fees to tack on. Spirit’s sort of a crap shoot on both aspects.

  6. I have generally been flying UA at a somewhat increased cost with the exception of where I live to where my parents live BOS-BWI/DCA. US used to help in this area but it’s left to Southwest and jetblue

  7. I’ve flown Spirit 3 times in the last year – and actually really liked them for short trips (my flights were all day trip to FLL in the middle of the winter). Their super low fares let me justify yet another weekend trip… I actually wish they had more routes out of NYC. That said, I would only fly them for short trips (I pack light), and to destinations with multiple flights a day so that I have options in case of irregular operations.

  8. I’m willing to fly anyone BUT Spirit. Just not sure they are taking care of the planes because of how cheap flights are and the corporate attitude.

  9. I have flown Spirit, Allegiant, and Ryanair. All 3 have gotten me where I needed to go and I have no complaints. I don’t like flying, but I like going places and I can bring on my own metal water bottle without complaining that a company saves me $$. Also, we don’t all have millions of miles to sit in 1st class by ourselves snapping selfies eating caviar. The booking process can be annoying on those flights, but I’ve never been separated from my family and I don’t pay the fee, I gamble that they’ll stick us together and they do. Unlike the national carrier the other day.

  10. Being MSP based makes me a “hostage” of Delta. All my business flights are on Delta and most of them are non-stop. It is just ridiculous how much they charge for some of their non stops flights. For example for flights next week:

    MSP-ICT: $1220 on Delta (non-stop) versus $432 on United (connection in ORD)
    MSP-OMA: $1020 on Delta (non-stop) versus $398 on United (connection in ORD)
    MSP-IND: $1120 on Delta (non-stop) versus $400 on United (connection in ORD)
    MSP-RDU: $1280 on Delta (non-stop) versus $432 on US Airways (connection in PHL)

    When traveling with family I usually fly Delta even if they are more expensive for convenience of flying non-stop. Since Skypesos are kind of “useless” due to Delta’s policy of keep devaluating them I use the strategy of “earn and burn” so I burn Skypesos for my family and I pay for my ticket to keep my elite status.

  11. I have avoided Spirit because i read reviews of canceled flights and overbooking. What has been your experience?

    • Martine, Spirit is bad during times of irregular operations. They aren’t a whole lot of fun during times of good operations, however for short flights where you can pack light they are totally tolerable if you are saving a lot by choosing them. 😉

  12. I’m generally pretty loyal to UA as well because my “home” airport is IAD – one of their major hubs. I try to avoid other carriers that are smaller for one major reason – UA has hubs and planes all over the country – if I need to get home, there’s a good chance I can, even if I need to be re-routed on multiple hops. Flying airlines like Virgin leaves me with very little leeway if a plane doesn’t arrive or there’s a storm.

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