There are a number of strategies that people swear by when buying plane tickets, from purchasing tickets months in advance to only searching for flights on certain days of the week. While the usefulness of these strategies is dubious, there’s one money-saving tip that all travelers should use when searching for flights, says Scott’s Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes.
When buying plane tickets for a group of people, Keyes recommends always comparing the fares for the full group to the price for just one or two seats on the same flight.
Airlines typically sell their tickets in “buckets,” Keyes tells CNBC Make It. That means a flight might have 10 tickets available for $99, 15 tickets available for $129, another 30 available for $149, and so on. When a cheaper bucket sells out, customers looking for flights are then shown more expensive tickets.
That means that if a family of four is looking for a flight, the airline’s ticketing system will only show them tickets in a bucket that can still accommodate four seats.
“If there’s only two seats left in the cheapest bucket, and you need three tickets, they’re going to bump you up to the next bucket,” Keyes says. “To my knowledge, virtually all airlines do this bucket fare method of selling tickets.”
On a recent trip from Portland, Oregon, to New York, Keyes was searching for airfare for three people. When he looked at the price for three seats, he was offered a trio of tickets for $178 each. But when he changed his search to two passengers, the cost of a ticket dropped to $117 each.
This is because the system had two tickets left in the $117 bucket, and automatically bumped him up to the more expensive bucket when he had searched for all three together. He ended up buying two tickets at the $117 price, and one at $178.
“I ended up saving $120 by booking a la carte instead of as an entire group,” he says. “It’s not going to work every single time, but knowing to always check if it’s going to be cheaper booking fewer tickets at once is a simple little way to oftentimes save a bunch of money.”
Keyes also recommends that people who use this method then call the airline after purchasing their tickets to have the separate itineraries combined into a single reservation.
“That way if the flight gets canceled or delayed or you get bumped, everybody is handled together rather than two of the people maybe being put on a different flight than the third person,” he says.