Consumer Reports: How to find cheaper flights

Easy ways to help you save on your next trip

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you're planning a flight for the holidays and haven't bought a ticket yet -- do it soon. If you wait much longer, Consumer Reports said you'll likely see prices jump.

But don't worry, its investigators found the best way to book a cheaper flight.

"When you're planning your trip and you're planning to fly, what is really the most important thing to you?" News4Jax asked a local traveler at Jacksonville International Airport.

"I like knee room plus a good price," he said.

But which booking site will give you that good price or the best deal? Consumer Reports compared nine sites, searching for the cheapest nonstop round-trip flights on five busy domestic routes. Users simultaneously searched for the exact same itinerary at the same time to the same airport.

They found there can be big differences. For example, in one search for round-trip flights between New York and Miami, the cheapest fare Google Flights came up with was $597, but on Priceline, the cheapest was $459.

And despite its name, CheapOAir never came up with the lowest fare on any of the routes that Consumer Reports checked.

"We found you'll increase your odds of finding the lowest fare if you search for flights multiple times over multiple days with and without your search history cleared on your browser," said Mandy Walker, Consumer Reports money editor.

Also, you should check the airlines' own sites to see if you can find an even lower fare. You can find all airlines that serve a given route at google.com/flights. Fares can vary considerably for flights just hours apart and at nearby airports. Consumer Reports found Kayak makes it particularly easy to search for other options.

When you use price-comparison sites, specify the city you want to depart from, not the airport. Most sites will then show you the flight options for any of that area's airports. 

As for the best time to shop for flights, the CEO of FareCompare told Consumer Reports it's 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. That's when the greatest number of cheap seats are available. If you can be flexible with your travel days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly. But bargains can pop up at any time, so don't stop searching.

If you like more comfort when flying, Consumer Reports recommended that you check SeatGuru.com for information about most airlines' seating plans -- including size, limited recline or leg room.

With prices changing all the time, Consumer Reports said it's a good idea to check the day after you book to see if you can find a better deal. The consumer watchdog also said, by law, you can cancel without penalty for 24 hours after you book it, as long as you're not traveling for at least a week. 

If you are worried about delays and making a connecting flight, Consumer Reports gave a little advice to help ease your stress. Sitting in the front can save as much as 15 minutes when deplaning -- though you might have to pay a little more for that seat. Also, avoid booking the last flight of the day. 

You do have rights if you are bumped involuntarily from a flight and are delayed. You may be entitled to up to $650 if the fight is domestic and $1,300 if it's international, according to Department of Transportation regulations.