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How to land the best deal on summer airfares

  • Most travelers book summer travel four weeks in advance.
  • Airfares are expected to be 5.8 percent higher than last summer.
  • Booking in the first week of May saves an average 33 percent.

It's about time you start thinking about that summer vacation plans.

Almost half of consumers haven't booked their summer vacation yet, and three-quarters haven't started saving for that trip, according to a new survey from HomeAway.com. The site polled 1,135 travelers in April.

Procrastinating could be a financial miss. Prices for summer airfares are expected to be up to 5.8 percent from last year, according to travel site Hopper.

"Our advice is always to plan ahead as early as possible," said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper. "We're already starting to see [summer] prices rise."

Travel site Hipmunk estimates that the best time to book is … now.

"Our advice is always to plan ahead as early as possible." -Patrick Surry, chief data scientist, Hopper

"Don't wait. Don't chance it," said spokeswoman Kelly Soderlund.

Based on historical flight prices from 2016, the site expects that travelers who book airfares in the first week of May save an average 33 percent versus those who wait. Prices in that period can be 11 percent lower for Memorial Day trips, 7 percent cheaper for Fourth of July trips and 31 percent lower for Labor Day trips.

Here's how to make sure you're scoring a deal:

1) Rethink trip planning

Rather than picking a specific destination and then trying to find deals, start by thinking about what you'd like in a trip—say, a beach trip or hiking, Surry said. Then search to see which spots have better pricing from your home airport for a summer trip.

Don't count out international destinations. Many are cheaper this year as a result of currency fluctuations and concerns over terror attacks, he said.

2) Target your search

Don't limit your hunt to just one search site, or just the big names. In a recent analysis on airfare booking, Frommer's found that Momondo and Skyscanner consistently spotted the lowest fares. On the hotel side, Booking.com took top honors, said Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer's.

"It's not always casting a wide net; it's using the right one," she said.

View from Hermosa Beach Pier looking north toward Manhattan Beach Pier in California.
Ian Logan | Getty Images
View from Hermosa Beach Pier looking north toward Manhattan Beach Pier in California.

3) Compare timing

"Prices are based on where people are interested in going, and the dates people are interested in traveling," said Surry.

If you have flexibility on the timing of your trip, compare prices to see if you might score extra savings by picking one week over another. Families often time trips around the end and start of the school year, Surry said, so you might see better pricing if you can travel when most kids are still in class.

4) Look beyond hotels

Some of the more comprehensive lodging search sites now incorporate "nontraditional" options like vacation rentals and short-term shares, Frommer said. Those can yield big savings: In an analysis last year, Hipmunk found savings of up to 63 percent compared with hotel rates in popular cities.

Savings extend beyond nightly rates, she said. Amenities like a kitchen and laundry room can cut on-the-ground costs, and you might also score free parking.