There may be a couple of feet of snow outside but it's not too early to be thinking of summer travel plans, whether you'll be taking a trip or family will visit. Here are four useful things you should know now that will help you get organized and save some money.
1. Three dates to keep in mind
If possible, start making plans to avoid the worst of the peak summer pricing which typically runs from mid-June to late August. These are dates to work around.
--May 16: The last day to begin a trip and still take advantage of cheaper spring pricing, and this is true for flights in the U.S. and Europe. If your flight takes off May 17 or later, you'll miss out on the spring savings. Don't despair, there are two more cheap times to fly.
--June 9: The last day to depart on U.S. flights before the most expensive fares of summer kick in. If you must fly later, try flying much later, in August.
--Aug. 23: The first day of cheaper fall pricing for both U.S. and Europe travel. Fly this day (or later) and you could pay significantly less than if you took off the day before.
2. Plan to fly mid-week
If you must fly in the peak summer season, plan to fly mid-week and you will almost always save money. The cheapest days to fly are generally Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday for the U.S. and mid-week for Europe.
3. When to buy your tickets
Don't buy too early and don't buy too late or you'll probably pay more than you have to. Bottom line: you can shop for Europe now, but wait a bit on U.S. tickets. Here are the guidelines:
--U.S. travel: Book tickets from 3½ months to 1 month before departure. If you want to travel in the peak of the summer season, you're still a little early. But start thinking of summer now. If you're at all flexible, try setting some airfare alerts for your destination (it's easy and just takes a second) and the best deals will be sent directly to you.
--Europe travel: Book tickets from about 5 months to 1½ months before departure. Now is the time to book a transatlantic trip, or at least give serious thought to where and when you want to go.
4. Plan ahead to avoid the worst of the fees
Check your luggage now. Do you have a carry-on? Great because that will save you about $50 per U.S. trip on most airlines with the exception of Southwest, the lone hold-out on bag fees. Yes, you can take a carry-on to Europe (I've done it and so has my wife) but forget the fees, the real advantage is airlines can't lose a bag that's always by your side.
Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site