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When to buy airline tickets

It’s common enough knowledge now when one starts shopping for airline tickets to set up flight alerts through kayak (I’m sure you’ve seen the search one and done commercials), to compare prices across sites and so on and so forth. Buying cheaper airline tickets especially behooves those who are headed to a conference and matriculated in a graduate program that gives a set amount for conference travel no matter what the costs are. Most programs, of course, will put a cap on how many times you can apply for such grants. Some only offer grants if you are a presenter, but I’ve received at least two grants to attend conferences solely for research purposes. Anyway, if you’re trying to make a travel grant stretch, here are a few things to think about in regards to airfare (and if you’re getting reimbursed, remember, you can still earn miles for both making the purchase and for doing the actual flying!).

Search one doesn’t really mean done. STA Travel may not have the same deals it did a few years ago, before fuel surcharges lost their little gassy minds, but the site is still worth checking and it doesn’t show up on the sites that aggregate airfares. It’s also been opened up to non-student travelers and of course teachers and those under the age of 26 still somehow count within STA’s main demographic. There is a NY Times article here about student travel agencies courting non-students. Be warned that you may have to get in touch directly with the airline you choose to fly in order to get miles earned posted to your account.

I’m really fond of hipmunk for comparing flight schedules and prices, as well as bing.com‘s travel tool because it has a price predictor and can tell me whether to wait or buy (and if prices are rising or steady) on many popular routes.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s that issue of when to make the purchase. The general rule of thumb is Tuesday, 3pm Eastern time through Wednesday. There’s a pretty significant difference between searching for flights midweek and on the weekend. Here are two excellent explanations and justifications for why this is:

From the Wall Street Journal, “Whatever you do, don’t buy an airline ticket on…”

From farecompare.com, Cheapest days to fly and best time to buy airline tickets

Remember to hang on to receipts, boarding passes, credit card statements (with other purchases, account numbers and sensitive info sharpie-ed out), conference programs (with your listing highlighted) and whatever else you may need for reimbursement if you’re a conference-going grad student.

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