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may 07 2009

5 steps for finding cheap fares for Memorial Day weekend

Here's a question that's probably on the minds of many people: How to get cheap tickets to fly this Memorial Day Weekend!

For example, this morning we were asked by one of our readers, Yanina:

"I'd like to find a last minute flight to the San Francisco-area for Memorial Day weekend, and am willing to leave the Thursday night and come back Sunday (as I assume its cheaper that way). I'd like the find the cheapest deal possible and I've searched the obvious, hotwire, travelocity, etc. They're all still too expensive. Wondering if perhaps you may have had a tip for trying to find a ticket I didn't think of? I realize its memorial day weekend and I probably wont find anything good, but you never know!"

Our advice would be to try the following steps, in this order:

1. Try an alternate airport at your destination.

Many airfare search websites send you to the main airport at a location, but if you're willing to travel up to an hour by public transportation or rental car, you may find cheaper fares at a nearby airport. (In your case, Yanina, have you tried Oakland airport? It is about the same driving/subway distance to many parts of the San Francisco-area as San Francisco's airport. But check with your hotel first to see if its staff recommends you use Oakland as an alternative. Everything depends on your hotel's location and the arrival time of your flight. If your flight comes in late in the afternoon, for instance, you might get stuck in rush-hour traffic if you have to cross the main bridge toward the Bay area. Not fun.)

2. Give Kayak.com a shot.

If you're willing to have a stopover, you should be able to save hundreds of bucks on the typical domestic trip.

3. Search for fares specifically on Southwest.com.

The low-cost airline only lists its fares on its own website. You won't find their deals on other sites.

4. Consider Priceline.

It's not as scary as it used to be! First, it gives an answer to your bid right away, instead of making you wait 15 minutes to an hour for an answer as it once did. Second, Priceline only uses major airlines (like American) and "interline flights" which means you'd be on the same airline the whole time, not three different airlines. Third, while Priceline does not guarantee a non-stop flight, it does promise a maximum of one-stop each way. All layovers capped at 3 hours. Flights may depart anywhere between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., however, the site guarantees that your trip will end no later than 12:30 a.m. the following morning.

5. Try buying two tickets.

There may be a lot more cheap tickets flying to some airport in the middle of the country that's halfway toward your destination than on a direct flight to your destination. In other words, look for a ticket on a discount carrier from your destination to, say, Chicago, Houston, or Denver. And then look for a second, separate cheap ticket on a different airline between that city and your destination. To be clear, you're buying two different tickets. One roundtrip ticket between your hometown and (let's say) Chicago. And another round-trip ticket between Chicago and and your destination. When you get to Chicago (in this example), you'd have to collect your bags at baggage claim and check in for a new flight, and check your bags again. So you need to allow enough time for a layover. On the bright side, you may save hundreds of dollars.

Good luck! If you have any tips to share, feel free to post a comment, of course.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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