Finding a cheap plane ticket is a sacred art. Even in the days of travel agents, travelers had to contend with ever-changing airfares and clever, cost-cutting solutions. Nowadays, booking online has made the process much easier and more efficient, but you're also more likely to end up paying more than a ticket is worth.
The whole process can be infuriating: First, you see a round-trip ticket from New York to Barcelona for $450. A few hours later, it's $670. What gives?
Seasoned travelers know that there are a thousand ways to haggle with airlines and rack up frequent flyer miles. But if you're unaccustomed to the world of airfare alchemy, here's one very simple trick for finding the best bargains.
This is the trick that most people never think of. Most airfare tips have to do with the airline itself, and the way these fares change over time. But this trick has to do with your browser, and how it communicates with flight-booking websites. When you upload a page, the website remembers that you visited before. Many bargain-hunters believe that this awareness causes the prices to steadily climb because you have already expressed interest in a given itinerary.
Google Chrome: There are a few ways to open an Incognito browser if you're using Google Chrome. The first is to right click on the Google Chrome icon before you launch the application. This will bring up a menu with the option, "New Incognito Window."
The second option is easy to use if you're already browsing in Google Chrome. Simply open a new tab, then hit (and hold) the following keys down: Control, Shift, N (Command, Shift, N for Mac users).
Firefox: In Firefox, this private browsing option isn't called "Incognito Mode," it's called "Private Window." To access this, just open a new browser and click the Settings icon in the top right-hand corner. There, you'll see a drop-down menu that lists an option called "New Private Window."
Safari (on desktop): When using Safari on your Mac, you can open a Private Window in the same way as Google Chrome. Just right click on the icon, and select "New Private Window."
Safari (on mobile): On mobile, opening a Private Window is a little bit different. While in the browser, tap the Pages icon in the bottom right-hand corner. This will show you all of the windows you have open, and at the bottom of the screen, you'll see the + sign to open another window. Tapping the + sign will open a regular browser. If you'd rather browse privately, be sure to tap "Private" right beside it.
Android: To prevent the website from recognizing your IP address, Android users can employ their "incognito mode." To use an incognito window on your Android device, open Chrome, then click More (the three vertical dots), then hit Incognito Window. When the new window opens, you'll see the incognito icon, which looks like a face with a fedora and glasses.
Not every device or browser has an incognito-like feature, but there's another way to get a similar effect: Most websites recognize your returning visit because of the cookies they install on your computer. Just delete all your cookies and browsing history, and these online services won't recognize you.
There is some debate on whether using Incognito Windows and eliminating cookies don't have a substantial impact on airfares. Each website works differently, so it's hard to say. But feel free to tinker with a regular window and an Incognito Window and see what happens. When it comes to travel, it isn't the destination but the journey.
3 more ways to save:
Browsing in incognito mode is a little secret not many know, but it's not the only way to save on airfare. To really make those savings add up, combine the trick above with these three power tips.
1. Buy your ticket on Tuesday
This sage advice has been handed down from backpacker to backpacker for years. Statistically speaking, airfares are lowest on Tuesdays, so this is the best time to book your flight. But remember, there are many reasons airfares ebb and flow, and buying a ticket this Tuesday doesn't guarantee you the cheapest flight of the week. We're just saying that probability is on your side.
2. Fly on weekdays
Millions of people work standard workweeks, which means they can't travel Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This is why the weekend is such a popular time to travel, making the airfares noticeably more expensive. Lots of people also schedule long weekends, so Fridays and Mondays can be just as pricey. How to get around this? Try traveling during the week. Like booking your flight, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are by far the best time to fly. You'll not only get cheaper rates, but you have a better chance of getting your preferred seat and maybe even a little legroom.
3. Sign up for airfare alerts
Airfares fluctuate all the time, based on factors that most of us would never think about. Foraging for tickets is like supply-and-demand with a sugar rush: As flights fill up, the remaining seats become more expensive, and these prices can skyrocket at any moment. Conversely, they also drop in price. So how do you keep tabs on possible deals? Sign up for an airfare alert. You can do this easily on a service like Kayak.com, and you can also consult a free listserv like AirfareWatchdog or Scott's Cheap Flights. This way, you'll receive updates in your email inbox, saving you the toil of constantly refreshing your browser for days on end.