The big marketing extravaganza that is Black Friday long ago morphed into a national shopping spree that lasts a lot longer the 24-hour period following Thanksgiving. Some retailers in fact extend sales clear into Cyber Monday, Nov. 28.
It starts earlier, too. November is barely underway but already Black Friday deals have been leaked to the media, while other bargains have been publicized as special “sneak previews.”
If you’re thinking of snagging Black Friday airline tickets, start planning now. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Look Early
Sales don’t always wait for Black Friday: In the past few years, some airlines have advertised Pre-Black Friday sales, including Southwest and Spirit (both of which also had “regular” Black Friday sales). The early bird sales typically show up from four to six days ahead of Black Friday (Nov. 25); find them by following a deals blog, signing up for email sale notifications from a favorite airline or by following airlines and airfare search sites on Facebook and Twitter.
2. Let Technology Do the Work
Set airfare alerts: This is perfect for anyone who knows where they want to go. Many airfare sites including my own allow you to set alerts to specific destinations and when prices drop, you hear in real time. This technology can sometimes help you find deals that are cheaper than advertised sales.
3. Act Fast
Deals don’t last: Some Black Friday sales are one-day affairs, some last just a few hours. But whether it’s an advertised sale or you’ve received a deal alert, know that sale seats are always limited and go quickly. If you see a deal, you may have only seconds to act (remember, you’re not the only one shopping and setting alerts). If you like it, ding your credit card immediately.
4. Be Flexible
Plan itineraries carefully: One of the dirty little secrets of Black Friday deals (and many other airfare sales) is that they usually don’t include flights on days you want to travel. For example, past Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals have (in some cases) been limited to fall/winter travel and restricted to flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. As for popular holiday travel periods, forget it; like most airline sales, Black Friday deals usually include plenty of blackout dates that target a wide array of holidays and peak season travel.
5. Not All Black Friday Deals Are Deals
Compare fares before you purchase: Just because an airline advertises a fare as a deal doesn’t necessarily mean it is, or that it’s an especially good one. Last year’s post-Thanksgiving sales featured one discount airline offering a deal from Washington, D.C. to Denver for $144 one-way, while another low cost carrier offered the identical route for $69 one-way. No matter when you buy airfares, even Black Friday deals, you must compare prices.
6. Deals Don’t Wait For Black Friday
Great deals can appear anytime: Late last week, I saw a deal for Denver-Paris for under $450 round trip (on Delta) proving once again that a deal doesn’t have to be tagged #BlackFriday to be a genuine bargain. Remember, keep your eyes open, set some alerts and always compare fares.
Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.