While some of these suggestions may also be valuable for International travelers, these tips are geared for travel within the U.S.
Airlines often change fares based upon airports they want to support at the time, whether their planes are expected to be full at flight time or perhaps they are in a fight with another airline and want to teach them a lesson.
If you are a member of an airlines frequent flier program, check to see how many miles or dollars the flights would take. I have applied for a credit card just to get a free trip. Even paying $75 a year for a card that will give you a $400 flight is worth it, especially if you cancel the card before paying another yearly fee. Many of these cards are fee free the first year. It certainly is something to consider.
Consumer Advisor Clark Howard posts travel deals (generally involving Atlanta) however, you can also find many deals worldwide on his travel deals page. They change often. A sale may only be offered during a few hour window, so if you see a great deal, grab it. Yes, you might find a better deal later, but the fares can also go up higher and never come down. Find a price you are comfortable with and book it. The best deals can be found 21, 14 and 7 days out, but you may find that all cheap fares are gone and the flights may be completely filled. Yes, it is a gamble to wait.
There are a few websites where you can look for deals and you should try them well in advance and often. Fares can change by hundreds of dollars with no notice.
Some airlines do not participate in airline pricing sites and require you to book on their on site. Southwest Air is an example. If you are in a Southwest served area, check them out. Southwest has no charge for the first 2 bags, no hidden fees and other perks.
Major carrier fares can be found of a number of sites. I like Google Flights and Kiwi. You can compare multiple airports and see on the calendar if leaving a day earlier or staying a day later saves lots of money. It is not unusual to see a difference of $100 or more by changing a day or two. You should figure in the cost of staying at your hotel vrs the savings.
As I personally fly from Hawaii (1/4 way around the world) to get to FUMA, the hassle factor of having to drive a few hours is offset by saving a couple hundred dollars. I have flown into Baltimore and visited friends before driving to campus and I have flown into Raleigh/Durham and driven also.
The airports I personally would check in the order of distance are:
- Charlottesville,VA (CHO)
- Richmond, VA (RIC)
- Dulles, VA (IAD)
- Washington, DC (DCA)
- Newport News, VA (PHF)
- Norfolk, VA (ORF)
- Baltimore, MD (BWI)
Realize the the further down the list, the further you are from where you want to be and you could be driving many hours. Although an airport may be a bit further, you may find a better deal on a rental car and thus, save money overall.
Mapquest can show you the routes. Google Assistant or Alexa on your cellphone can help you navigate without having to get a GPS. Also many newer rental cars allow you to link your cellphone to their radio speakers.
I personally try to get ‘bumped’. Airlines overbook flights and I will look for flights that are almost full or look to be full soon. As soon as I get to the airport and they open the gate for check-ins, I am first in line to ask if they are looking for ‘volunteers’. If they are, I may give them my ticket and accept a different flight. That different flight might be hours later or even the next day. They will offer a hotel room and either cash or a voucher for future travel. That voucher may cover the whole cost of your flight or more. If the offer sounds good and you can afford the delay, go for it. Recently the offers for volunteering have increased considerably, rather them having to take someone off a plane involuntarily.
If you are a Costco (or other warehouse) member, check their travel links for pricing. Also there are sites like Autorentals.Com which show a matrix of prices for rental car companies.