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Summer is right around the corner, and with it comes travel season. Indeed, 73% of Americans have travel plans this summer, according to recent data from ValuePenguin, with an average of $2,700 set aside to plan their getaways.
But if you haven’t booked your vacation yet, don’t wait any longer. And if you’re looking for a good deal, it may help to think outside the box.
“I think the biggest savings to be had is actually a wholesale rethinking of the strategy of how to plan your vacation,” says Scott Keyes, founder of airfare deal newsletter Scott’s Cheap Flights.
“Everybody says they want to get cheap flights, but the way that most people actually search for flights is entirely backwards, and if anything, it actually kneecaps their ability to find them,” he tells CNBC Make It.
In Keyes’ experience, the average person follows the same three-step process when booking airfare. First, they pick a vacation destination. Second, they choose their dates. And third, they start to look at the cost of flights.
“By setting price as the last priority, it’s not terribly surprising that we have some pretty expensive flights,” he says. Instead, prospective travelers should take that same three-step process and “flip it on its head.”
“If cheap flights are really important to you and this is a vacation where you have the flexibility about where and when to go, don’t make price the last priority,” Keyes says.
Instead, make price the top priority. He recommends periodically checking prices from your local airport to see which destinations are the most affordable, keeping in mind that fares can change by the day.
Once you’ve settled on a few places you’d be happy to visit, only then should you start looking at what days the cheaper fares are available and see which fit your schedule.
“That’s how you afford to take three or four vacations for the same price that you used to pay for one,” Keyes says.
Keyes acknowledges that some trips such as weddings don’t provide the same kind of flexibility with dates. In those cases, travelers should search during what he calls the “Goldilocks window,” which he says is the time frame during which the best rates can be found.
For domestic flights, Keyes says the Goldilocks window is usually between one and three months ahead of your travel dates. For international flights, it’s between two and eight months ahead of time.