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How To Find That Cheap Airline Ticket

As fuel costs rise and security issues dominate the skies we can expect airlines to pass these increases along to the traveler.  We are seeing it now in the increase in departure/arrival taxes, security fees and fuel surcharges.  How many of us have booked a $500.00 flight to Europe only to find that the taxes associated with the ticket amount to a further $500.00?  It becomes even more important to save money where you can.  What are your sources to finding a cheap ticket in today’s market?  Travel agencies have been around ever since the major airlines gave them a role in selling tickets.  But as we all know the airlines today would like to put the genie back in the bottle and sell directly to consumers, bypassing the travel agent.  Airline consolidators still exist whereby your travel agent will have access to reduced fares but this is a shrinking market.  Remember travel agencies still need to add their administration fees onto any ticket that they sell you.  Depending on the type of discount they receive this may or may not be your best option.

It is almost a guarantee that the people sitting in the same row as you on the plane have all paid a different price for the same ticket.  British Airways was said to have more ticket options than seats on a plane.  To get the cheapest ticket means giving up your flexibility and purchasing well in advance.  By purchasing tickets that are 100% non-refundable and offer no opportunity to change you can usually save the most.  Of course you assume all the risk should something go wrong and you need to cancel (this is where trip cancellation coverage comes in handy).  Buy that ticket in advance and you could save even further.  Look for flights during non-peak travel periods will save as well.  Red-eye flights (at least domestically) offer a savings over other times of travel.  Multi-stop itineraries are usually frowned upon by frequent flyers yet those who collect airline points have long known that they can maximize their trip by including extra flights.

The Internet has allowed airlines to reach out directly to travelers oftentimes with last-minute specials and blitz seat sales.  Once they have sold a few seats they may remove the sale.  I have seen domestic seat sales offered at 9:00am only to have them gone by 4:00pm.  Unlike charter flights there is usually no great advantage to waiting until the last minute before purchasing your tickets. Normally airlines hold on to seats until the last few days before a flight in the hopes of being able to charge higher last-minute prices for those who really need to fly.   I always advise clients that if your travel dates are firm and you have found a good price, book it for you never know how long it will last.

Internet-related search engines provide a good source in comparing fares and booking flights.  Kayak.com does not sell tickets but is rather a source to direct you to other sites where you can purchase tickets.  Sites like cheapflights.com, or travelocity.com are good reliable options.  Hotwire.com, skyauction.com and priceline.com even allow you to bid for airline tickets.  For domestic flights the Internet is really the best way to finding cheap fares today.  It becomes a bit trickier once you start looking at international (i.e. long-haul) flights.   Here are few general tips to try when booking on-line:  Change your departure city.  You may be flying out of a smaller town that does not have the international connection.  By driving to a nearby (larger) city you might save a lot of money.  Check a few days on either side of your preferred travel dates.   Airlines have days of the week when the same ticket could be hundreds of dollars less.  Another trick that I have used to great advantage in the past it to sometimes break up a long flight and price the ticket out as 2 (or 3) separate tickets.  A flight from Los Angeles to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea will cost over $3000.00 per person.  Price the same ticket as a return to just Sydney and then price a separate ticket from Sydney to Port Moresby and the total cost is $1500.00. Half the price of the original ticket!  Of course along with this option there is always the caveat that two separate tickets means checking in bags twice, sometimes clearing Customs, allowing enough time to make your connecting flight and possibly the additional costs of an airport hotel.  If the savings are great enough this may still be the way to go.

Booking from a specialist agency still has its advantages and in this super-competitive market they should still be able to find you some good deals.  Armed with the information that you can retrieve from the internet and the airlines directly this should make your decision process somewhat simpler and at least afford you the satisfaction of knowing that you have gotten the best fare available.

Safe Travels!

David Roth - April 12, 2011
 

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