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11 Secrets Travel Booking Companies Don’t Want You to Know

How to spend way less cash on your next vacay.

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Start early (but not too early)

Rates can shoot up in the blink of an eye, so it’s best to start researching your trip well in advance. The sooner, the better, but don’t get overzealous—CheapAir.com recommends booking domestic flights an average of 47 days (and for international flights, 60 days) in advance for the best rates. Outside of those date ranges, airline companies probably won’t be advertising a competitive price. This is what airlines won’t tell you about safety, disgusting airplane habits, and more.

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Check fares often

Become a regular visitor to your favorite travel booking sites—it could give you the best bet of snagging a good deal. According to CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee, airlines usually have 10 to 15 different price points for any flight, so their rates could fluctuate in a matter of hours. Logging on in advance will give you a good idea of the expected rates; that way you’ll recognize a deal when it comes along. Once you do, be prepared to pounce. “While everyone wants to get a good deal, you can’t obsess about finding rock-bottom prices,” Klee told U.S. News. “Once you see a good deal, grab it. If you see a good deal during the day, there’s a very good chance that it will change by evening.”

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Buying airline tickets on line with a credit card

Read the fine print

If you’re not careful, the bucks you saved when booking could start slipping out of your pocket the minute you arrive at the airport. Sometimes, online booking companies will hit you with unexpected fees for extra services. Airline companies could charge you to print a boarding pass if you didn’t do it at home; others could hide additional taxes or fees for hotel rooms or extra luggage. Luckily, those fees are avoidable; just make sure to do your homework on the company and read the fine print before you press the “purchase” button. Stop making these airport mistakes before your next flight.

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Befriend the experts

Although travel itineraries and emergency contacts are important for a safe trip, a travel agent can be your most trusted getaway companion. If something goes wrong before or during your trip, they will be your primary advocate and have your back in sticky situations, especially when traveling abroad. Travel agents also book directly with the travel companies, so you won’t get stuck working through a third-party service, which could cause you to lose your ticket or get you bumped from a wait list. If you prefer to go about it alone, Klee said, make sure that you are using online services that provide reliable customer support. “That way, if you’re in a bind, you can get help more easily,” he told U.S. News. No one likes to be left on their own when things go sideways.

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Travel budget concept. Travel money savings in a glass jar with compass, passport and aircraft toy on world map

Set a realistic budget

Don’t freeze the minute you see big dollar signs. If you’re traveling around peak times like Christmas or Thanksgiving, you should expect to pay more for your ticket. Budgeting for the escalated costs of holiday travel will give you a safety net for spending. “Holiday flights are more expensive than everyday flights,” Klee told U.S. News. “Don’t get sticker-shock and wait longer to book in hopes that the price will drop, since you could end up paying more.” You can pounce on great deals by researching flights and hotel rates several months in advance, but settling on a realistic cost will be your best bet at success.

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Tourist planning vacation with the help of world map with other travel accessories around. Young woman pointing at North America on the world map.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Don’t assume you’re too late

Even if you’re behind on your scheduling, don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and wait it out. “If a fare was way too high for your pocketbook, you should jump back into the pool a few weeks before,” Klee said. Sometimes, airlines lower the cost of unsold seats in order to fill a plane. You can usually find the best bargains during inconvenient departure times or overnight flights, so try to keep an open mind with your travel plans.

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Know when to spend money

Even though it’s nice to save a few bucks once in awhile, there are times when cutting corners can go a little overboard. Opting for an eight-hour overnight layover just because it was $10 or $20 cheaper probably isn’t worth it. Pay close attention to the listed travel dates and times and avoid skimping where it’s not necessary, no matter how enticing the travel companies might make it seem. These are secrets about flying that flight attendants won’t tell you.

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young man in eyeglasses holding cup of coffee and using laptop on windowsill
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Clear your cookies regularly

Travel booking websites are sneakier than you think. If you’ve already visited a travel site, browsed their rates, and then left (but plan to return to book), watch out: that site could remember you, and when you return, it could jack up its prices. “There is growing anecdotal evidence that suggests airlines are tracking your behavior online, and potentially even tracking IP addresses, and prices could go up for flights that are searched frequently,” Peter Greenberg, travel editor at CBS News, wrote on LinkedIn. When you see the inflated rates, you may get anxious and feel the need to book it right then. Avoid the temptation; you will be paying more than you should for your ticket. Instead, you can stealthily avoid the tracking websites by clearing your browser history after you visit the site.

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The 5 Most Punctual Airports in the World
Sergey Furtaev/Shutterstock

Be flexible with dates

Saving a few bucks could be as simple as adding a day to your trip. A survey conducted by CheapAir.com shows that travelers saved an average of $249 per airline ticket simply by shifting their Thanksgiving travel dates to depart the Monday before the holiday and return the Tuesday after. This applies to hotel rates, too; sometimes, a longer stay could actually be cheaper. “Always check for a three-night stay because lots of hotels give much better rates when booking three or more nights, rather than a one- or two-night stay,” Hotels.com co-founder Bob Diener told U.S. News.

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Keep your currency local

Booking international flights in the local currency could save you big bucks, since flights at converted rates are almost always more expensive. Avoiding the conversion costs isn’t hard; just select the native country as your location in the upper right-hand corner of the airline website.

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courtesy Azores Getaways

Know your tools

Tons of powerful money-saving sites are out there on the world wide web, so take advantage. For example, certain services like Hopper will notify you as soon as a price drop happens. Another site, ITA Flight Matrix, collects flight information from every service provider, and allows you to sort results by location, cost per mile, date ranges, and more.

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.