Clark Howard: Play by the rules for cheap airfare

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Airfares are going up and down at the same time, and I need to explain to you what’s going on.

American, United and Delta — the three full-fare airlines — are able to raise prices more and more because they are controlling how many seats they have. They mostly attract business travelers.

And at the same time the three fastest growing airlines in the country are airlines you might not know much about, or you might have flown them and you hate them. They’re Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant. I call them hard discounters.

But they’re growing fast, adding new planes and routes, and the fares are phenomenally cheap. Frontier, the airline that people complain about the most to federal regulators, offers sale fares all the time starting at $39.
But that’s only the starting point. You want anything to eat or drink? You pay for it. You want to take a bag on board or check one? You pay for it. But if you learn how to fly by their rules you’re really going to fly for $39 sometimes.

Want to know my No. 1 rule of cheap travel? I don’t pick a destination I have to go to. I wait for a deal somewhere, buy the deal, and then figure out why I want to go there.

By following that simple rule, I’ve been able to visit every continent except Antarctica and every state except North Dakota. And I’ve done it all on a dime.

This strategy is particularly great for honeymooners. When you’re getting married, you already probably have a date in mind. But if you can be flexible on destination, you can save big bucks.

So how do you figure out where the deals are? Kayak.com/explore lets you find great airfare deals on your budget.

Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website

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