2. Use the local currency.
You may not speak a foreign language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the local version of an airline’s website to get a discount. Savings can be substantial if you purchase a ticket in local currency, as opposed to U.S. dollars. Looking on the American portal for Norwegian Air Shuttle, the low-cost European carrier (norwegian.com/us), I found a round-trip ticket from Kennedy Airport in New York to Oslo for $688.30 — a decent price.
I then looked on the website for Norway-based passengers (norwegian.no) and searched for the same flight. It takes some work — there are lots of o’s with slashes through them, and you’ll need to know that “hvor vil du dra” means roughly “destination,” but I found it simple enough to negotiate. (Tip: Keep two browser tabs open, the Norwegian and English versions. Then you can compare if you get stuck. Google translate, for whatever reason, works on the initial landing page then stops working once you’re actually booking.
I found the exact flight for 4,394 Norwegian kroner, about $538. That’s a substantial difference — $160, or 23 percent. You’ll need to create an account, which I recommend you do on the United States site first. Also, use a credit card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee — you don’t want that eating into your savings.
3. Book at the last minute.
The conventional wisdom is to book tickets well in advance — preferably at least two weeks, otherwise you’ll pay many times what you ordinarily would. This is no longer the case: Priceline.com now gives steep discounts on next-day — and even same-day — flights within the United States. (This is available for some international routes, too, but I’ve found the savings aren’t as consistent.)
This, of course, requires flexibility. You’re always rolling the dice with Priceline: You won’t know exactly when you leave, or the airline you’re flying, until you commit to buy. But you do get some information: You’re guaranteed a nonstop or one layover and you typically get a window for arrival and departure times. You’ll also receive a warning (a little moon-and-stars icon) if your flight could be a redeye.
As I’m writing this, the lowest published next-day, round-trip ticket from Boston to Los Angeles costs a little over $500. By booking a Priceline deal, you can buy that trip for less than $360. Next-day from Seattle to Dallas is currently $428, round-trip. On Priceline it’s $285, and you’re guaranteed a departure between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., maximum one layover.
Booking same-day can yield even greater savings and, ironically, greater control over when you leave. The current lowest published price for a same-day New York to Los Angeles trip is nearly $900. On Priceline it’s $428, saving you over 50 percent. Best of all, depending on what time of day you book, you can more closely deduce your flight times. If you book your same-day ticket in the early afternoon, you will get only flights that depart after you book. Be ready to get going to the airport immediately, however. (Good luck with the T.S.A.!)
I’ve booked Los Angeles to New York tickets on two occasions, same-day, and paid around $350, saving hundreds of dollars. In both instances, I’ve gotten nonstop flights on Delta. Booking at the last second isn’t optimal, and this is by no means a recommendation of the practice — I’m simply pointing out that, if something last-minute comes up, you’re not doomed to pay exorbitant prices. In fact, you may actually end up paying less than if you had booked ahead.