Tell me – There are a number of strategies people follow when buying airline tickets, from buying them months in advance to finding flights only on certain days of the week.
While the usefulness of these strategies is questionable, there’s one money-saving tip all travelers should use when searching for flights, says Scott Keys, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a website that specializes in finding and booking airline tickets.
And when buying plane tickets for a group of travelers, Keys always recommends comparing the prices of the whole group to the price of just one or two seats on the same flight.
Airlines usually sell their tickets in “categories,” Keys told CNBC Make It. This means that a flight, for example, might have 10 tickets available for $99, 15 tickets available for $129, another 30 available for $149, and so on. After the cheapest tier is sold, expensive tickets are offered to customers looking for flights.
This means that if a family of four is looking for a flight, the airline’s ticket system will only show them tickets in the category that still seats four.
“If there are only two seats left in the cheapest category, and you need three tickets, they will board you to the next group. As far as I know, almost all airlines follow the same method of selling tickets,” Keys says.
On his recent trip from Portland, Oregon, to New York, Keys was looking for a ticket for three people. When he looked at the price of three seats, he was offered three tickets for $178 each. But when he changed his search to two passengers, the ticket cost fell to $117 each.
That’s because the system had two tickets left in the $117 denomination, and automatically moved it to the more expensive group when it searched for all three. He ended up buying two tickets at $117, and one at $178.
“I ended up saving $120 by booking an a la carte rather than a full set,” he says. “It won’t work every time, but knowing to always check if booking fewer tickets will be cheaper at one time is a simple way.” Often times to save a bunch of money.”
Keys also recommends that people using this method contact the airline after purchasing their tickets to have separate itineraries combined into one booking.
“This way, if the flight is canceled or delayed, everyone will be treated, for example, rather than two people who may be placed on a different flight than the third person’s flight,” he says.