How to Find Cheap Ski Trip Airfare

by Jessica

July 27th, 2010

While some people are content to chase the sun around the world when they travel, other people are more interested in cold weather destinations. Just as it’s always beach season somewhere, it’s always ski season somewhere, too.

Although typically summer tends to be one of the most expensive times to fly, because so many people travel specifically to ski there are many ski-centric destinations that experience their highest airfare levels in the winter. So looking for ways to save money on ski trip airfare is a good start to saving money on your vacation. Depending on where you’re going, you could find that airfare is at “low season” levels because the spot you’ve picked for skiing isn’t as popular – or you may find that the airfare is at near-peak prices. If fares are higher than you expected, you’ll be pleased to know there are some tricks you can use to avoid paying full price for your ski trip airfare.

Most of the tips included here will help you save money on airfare no matter when you’re traveling, but they’re particularly helpful when you’re flying to a popular destination or at a busy time – such as to a popular ski resort over New Years.

Stay Flexible

Yes, it’s a good idea to be limber and flexible if you’re about to spend a few days skiing, but that’s not what the title of this tip is referring to. In this case, staying flexible is about not limiting your search for an airline ticket to one specific day – or worse, to a short window of a few hours on one specific day.

There are certain times of day and days of the week when the prices on flights go down, and although there are some days and times when tend to be cheaper (see the note below) you can’t be 100% sure when the best airfare deals will be. If you’re only looking at flights on a Monday, or only on flights between 10am and noon on a Monday, you’re drastically limiting the chances that you’d see one of the cheaper fares. Keep your initial search for fares as open as possible and you’re more likely to catch some of those cheaper fares in your search.

While you can do this manually by plugging in various days and times to whatever airfare booking site you’re using, it’s easier to use a site that allows for flexible searching. Look for a box near where you put your travel information that says “my dates are flexible” or something like that. Check that box and your results will typically include fares for a few days on either side of your target dates.

Find Out What Days & Times are Cheapest to Fly

As mentioned above, there are natural fluctuations in the prices of airline tickets on any given day – but there are routinely a few days a week and times of day that tend to be cheaper than others, and knowing when those are can help you save quite a bit on your airfare.

Wednesday tends to be the cheapest day to fly, followed by Tuesday and Saturday. The earliest flights of the day are usually the cheapest, followed by the late departures and red-eye flights. When you’re starting your search for cheap ski trip airfare, you definitely still want to stay flexible and look at several days’ worth of flights – but starting with the days and times listed here can help you find the cheaper flights faster, which saves you time as well as money.

Don’t Overlook Budget Airlines

You may be familiar with the big airlines that dominate major airports and spend money on advertising, but chances are very good that those aren’t the only airlines that fly where you want to go. Major airports tend to have service from at least a few smaller (and sometimes regional) airlines, and in some smaller airports those are the only airlines that fly in and out. Why does this matter? Because smaller airlines are also sometimes cheaper airlines.

Just because you haven’t heard of the smaller airlines doesn’t mean you should ignore them when you’re checking on airfare. Do yourself a favor and look up a list of the airlines that fly into the airports you’re considering – and make note of the names of smaller airlines. Certainly not all of them will fly from your home airport, but some might. And if you have to stop somewhere midway and change planes anyway, it might be worth it to switch to a smaller budget airline then, too. It’s also worth noting that some budget airlines save their best fares for people who book on their websites, so be sure to check the airline website before you hit the “buy” button for potentially even better prices.

>> Read more about budget airlines in the U.S., budget airlines in Mexico, budget airlines in Canada, and budget airlines in Europe

Check All Area Airports

Now that you’re ready to look at unfamiliar airlines to save money, here’s another tip that will have you scouting for unfamiliar names – look at flying into airports other than the major one for where you’re going. Of course not every destination has multiple airports in the area, but enough cities have 2-3 airports within a reasonable distance that it’s always worth checking.

In some cases, a secondary airport will charge airlines lower leasing fees, so those airlines pass the savings on in the form of lower airfare. In other cases, a secondary airport will be more popular with the aforementioned budget airlines, which makes flights to that airport cheaper. It’s not always going to be true that the biggest airport has the highest fares, and in some cases the bigges airport will be the cheapest option – but you won’t know if you don’t look at the alternatives.

>> Read more about alternative airports to big US hub airports

Look Beyond Popular Ski Destinations

Any skier will be able to rattle off the names of a dozen famous ski resorts or even, more generally, famous ski destinations. But those are the places where prices skyrocket in the peak ski season – so why not look past the well-known ski spots to lesser-known ski spots – or a different time of year – to save a little money?

Maybe instead of going to Colorado or Vermont to ski you might give Oregon or Pennsylvania a try. Maybe instead of spending January in the Swiss Alps you might look into spending August on the South Island of New Zealand. Sometimes hunting down the best ski trip deals is about keeping your options open and not focusing solely on the places everyone else is going. Sure, the skiing in Colorado may be better than the skiing in Oregon – but if it’s still decent and it costs a fraction of the more popular destination, then think of how many more days you could spend on vacation.

Do Your Research

If you’re a spontaneous traveler then this might be a tough one for you – but sometimes planning ahead and doing advance trip research really does save you a bunch of money. This can sometimes be because ski resorts will offer discount packages several months in advance in order to make sure they’re going to have a good season. But more generally, starting to at least familiarize yourself with what the trip will cost a few months early means you’re more able to spot a good deal when you see one.

Many booking sites will let you sign up for email alerts for particular routes, and it’s a good idea to do this whenever you’re planning a trip. The site will let you know when prices go up or down, so you’ll know what the trend is, and then when you see a package deal or a flight advertised you’ll know whether it’s really a great price or not because you’ve been following what the trends are.

photo by Tony the Misfit

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