When Searching for Low Airfares, This is Key

It’s one thing when you’re searching for a low airfare for yourself, but when you’re planning for a family vacation, small differences in airfare add up quickly. A fare of even $100 more than you had budgeted could mean $600 for a family with four kids. That’s money that could be spent on meals, activities, or even an extra night or two at a hotel. And sometimes, it can throw a vacation into the unaffordable category.

One of the strategies my family has used for years is being flexible with our departure airport. We live a 15-minute drive from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which is incredibly convenient. But we regularly consider other airports within a two-hour drive, if the fare difference is great enough. We’re lucky that that two-hour radius includes Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit, and Akron, and at any one time, at least one of those seems to be in the midst of an airline price battle.

But we’ve also occasionally looked further afield … Chicago’s O’Hare airport is a six-hour drive from home, but an amazing $383 roundtrip deal to Vietnam on United last year made the drive worthwhile, both for the fare and the miles/status earned.

A couple of summers ago, we were hoping to take the whole family (four of us) to Kauai, one of our favorite destinations. But we watched for months in advance, and there was nothing remotely cheap. We checked our alternate airports and even changed up the travel dates as much as we could, but the fare never dipped below $1,000. In fact, from Cleveland, it hovered relentlessly at about $1,300 — abnormally high.

One day, I saw a story online about some heavily discounted fares between Toronto and some European cities, and a light bulb went off in my head. Toronto wasn’t that far away, so I figured it was worth a try.

The fare between Toronto and Lihue, Kauai turned out to be an amazing $504, and on our preferred airline! Driving to Toronto was a four- to five-hour journey and required us to take our passports to get to Hawaii (an odd feeling, for sure). However, saving the $3,200 in airfare was simply the difference between us taking the trip and having to cancel it.

Google Flights has some interesting tools that make finding lower fares easier. You can select up to five cities for departure and five for arrival — and it will display a matrix of what city pairs are the cheapest. You can also search for fares to a whole region, such as Europe. But one of my favorites is the price graph.

To use the price graph, select your ideal departure and arrival cities and a length of the trip in days. This tool will display a bar graph of 60-day periods, showing in an easily digestible format what the ideal dates to travel are. You can also adjust the trip length on the fly, and the graph will recompute the pricing.

With the power of the internet today, there’s no excuse for not being able to find a good airfare — assuming you have some flexibility and are willing to be creative.

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