Option #1: The 24-hour purchase rule may help. A Department of Transportation rule requires airlines to provide a grace period of 24 hours to change your flight, without a penalty.
Option #2: Lock in the fare. The Fare Lock program (offered by airlines like United) allows you to hold your flight for up to three days for as little as $7 or $8. American Airlines recently introduced a similar option called Extended Hold, which allows you to hold your flight for up to a week for under $15.
Option #3: Book on Southwest Airlines, which is proudly the only US carrier to allow passengers to change their flights free of charge.
Option #4: Become an elite flyer (with perks that can include waived change fees) Or consider buying flight insurance – but do not buy without reading all the fine print, as insurance will only do you good if it covers what you need it to cover.
Option #5: Buy tickets on a budget airline like Jet Blue or Spirit, so if things happen to change and you have to rebook an entirely new flight, the initial loss won’t be extortionate!
The best options seems to be fare-hold BUT the preferable situation is to know the exact dates you wish to travel and stick with them. (Unfortunately, life doesn’t always come wrapped up in such a neat and tidy package!)