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There is a sure way to save money on airline tickets, but those savings may not be worth it for some travelers, depending on their tolerance for certain headaches.
The money-saving strategy probably doesn’t come as a surprise: booking a flight with one or more stops is generally less expensive than choosing a nonstop option. The average discount for doing so can be substantial, around 20%, based on Google Flights data on domestic flights over the last five years.
Round-trip domestic flights cost $293 in August, on average, according to Hopper. A 20% discount on that average rate comes to about $59.
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Google’s review calls a willingness to stopover “one of your best bets for saving money when you fly.”
“That’s largely because there are more ways to get from point A to point B with a stop in between,” according to James Byers, group product manager for Google Flights.
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Travelers may feel the urge or need to cut travel budgets as airfares and other travel costs have become more expensive. Costs for airfare, hotels and rental cars fell in July from a year earlier but are still high compared to pre-pandemic levels, by double-digit percentages in some cases, according to federal data.
Searches for “cheapest plane tickets” increased 240% in the US between April and August of this year compared to the previous four-month period, from November 2021 to March 2022, according to Google.
But the savings travelers get from layovers come with tradeoffs: Those travelers may feel sharper as airlines continue to wrestle with potential consumer annoyances like flight delays and baggage, according to travel experts.
There is the obvious time difference: it takes longer to travel with stops than without. But trip delays and cancellations can have cascading effects that impact the remaining legs of your trip.
For one thing, you can miss a connecting flight if your first one is delayed. Even if you arrive on time for a connecting flight, your luggage may not arrive if the layover is too short.
Of course, travelers may not have the option of choosing a nonstop flight, especially if they don’t live near a major airport. Those with the option (and budget) to fly nonstop may find it worth the extra money. Those who don’t have the option can potentially reduce their number of stops during a trip, perhaps one instead of two, for example.
“You want to reduce variables as much as possible when you travel,” according to Sara Rathner, travel expert at NerdWallet.
‘Err on the side of more time, always’
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About 73% of flights were on time in June this year, down from nearly 75% in June 2021, though about the same as the pre-pandemic rate in June 2019, according to the most recent data from the Department of Transportation.
More flights have also been canceled: 3.1% of flights in June 2022, which is double the rate during the same period last year and an increase of 2.1% in 2019, according to data from the agency. .
Airlines also mishandled a larger share of bags from January to June 2022 than in recent years. More than 1.4 million bags, 0.63% of the total, were damaged during that period, compared to 709,700 (0.44% of all bags) in 2021 and 1.5 million (0.61% ) in 2019. Damaged bags include those that are lost or delayed.
“Err on the side of more time, always,” Rathner said. “Lines are long and airports are still understaffed, so you don’t want to get into the airport with 20 minutes to go.”
For travelers choosing a flight with one or more layovers, he recommends looking for layovers of 90 minutes or more for US flights to provide adequate margin.
Those with a layover can also eliminate the risk of a lost or delayed bag by packing light and bringing their belongings onto the plane instead of checking them, he said.
5 More Tips for Cheaper Airfare and Travel
There are ways travelers can potentially lower the costs of airline tickets, and of a trip more generally, in addition to choosing a stopover. Some may go against popular belief.
- Be flexible when you fly: Flying domestically on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday earns a 20% discount relative to a weekend departure, on average, according to Google’s analysis of historical data. The discount is 12% when considering international and US flights. Also, those with the flexibility to travel during the off-season between Labor Day and the holiday season will generally get discounts relative to peak travel times, Rathner said. Domestic airfare in September and October is down 37% compared to peak summer season, for example, according to Hopper.
- And where do you fly from: Consider all nearby airports, not just the one closest to you. According to Phil Dengler, travel expert at The Vacationer, it can be cheaper to drive to an airport farther from home and fly from there, compared to your home airport.
- Buy early: According to Google. Buying far in advance has a “much greater influence” on the cost than waiting until Tuesday, Byers said. Domestic flights are cheapest about a month and a half before departure, though they can vary depending on the specific route, Google found.
- Set price alerts: Experts recommend using services that help consumers keep track of cheap airfares and send price alerts to travelers. Examples include The Fare Deal Alert, The Flight Deal, Google Flights, KAYAK Price Alerts, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Secret Flying, according to Rathner. “It can be useful to use the technology that exists to save yourself from yourself,” he said.
- Book your trip backwards: Flights are often the first thing people consider and book when planning a trip. But plane tickets may not be the most expensive component. Optimizing the price of a rental car by finding the lowest-cost combination of days and then buying airline tickets that match that itinerary can help you save money on your overall trip, even if it means paying a little more for airfare. Ratner said.