I. Overview of Topic
Airfares, say most experts, have nowhere to go but up over the coming months, as the industry continues to consolidate. This will be doubly true if the price of jet fuel starts skyrocketing again.
All the more reason to develop an online strategy for finding not just cheap airline flights but the cheapest airline flights.
Over the past few years there's been a huge proliferation of price-comparison websites promising to find you cheap airline flights (cheap airfare tickets) within a couple clicks of your mouse. But there are two problems with using these cheap-ticket sites. One is simply that there are now so many of them you will need hours if not days of research just to get them sorted out and figure out which ones have the best deals for the kind of travel you're planning. The second problem is that, in truth, these sites often don't get you the best deals after all your work.
Of course for many trips, a site like Kayak.com may be just fine. It's probably not worth your time to do online research trying to cut thirty bucks off a flight from Cleveland to Detroit.
But if you're a true road warrior or if you're planning one or more expensive trips, there may be a lot of money to be saved by developing and following a good cheap airline flight research plan. Aside from the money, it's just not very pleasant to find the traveler next to you on a flight got her ticket for $400 less than you paid for yours!
Three-hundred-page books have been written on how to find cheap airline flights. But that may be information overkill. The basics are, well, pretty basic. First, there are some facts you need to know about airline ticket pricing in general. Then, second, you need to have a simple but effective research plan in mind when you're shopping for ultra- cheap airline flights.
Airline Ticket Pricing Pointers
- The price printed on your ticket is no longer your total cost. Struggling airlines are now adding on every sort of hidden fee imaginable, from charges to preselect your seat to charges for pillows and blankets to charges for a third piece of luggage. Some are even charging to book your flight via their toll-free number. No charge to use the bathroom - yet. But you should always consider these fees when you calculate how much your ticket is really costing you.
- There is no single magical website which will always get you the cheapest ticket. You have to research it a little bit (as further discussed below).
- Flexibility in your travel plans is the most important factor in getting the best deal. Try to be flexible about time of day or week you travel, as well as about which airline or even airport you use.
- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are usually the cheapest days to travel. If you have to travel on a weekend, it's best to leave Friday and return early Monday morning. But other things equal, late-night departures are usually cheaper.
- Third-party price-comparison and booking sites add service fees, so booking from the airline's website may be cheaper. Note that Southwest's fares are not listed on third-party sites.
- Sometimes you can save money by arriving at one destination city and returning from another. This works best on international flights.
- Sometimes it's cheaper to book a flight + hotel through one of the Big Two travel sites, Expedia and Travelocity.
- Discount seats are usually "blacked out" during holiday periods. But you may be able to get a discount if you fly on the holiday itself.
- Many airlines offer senior discounts, bereavement discounts, and emergency illness discounts.
How to Research Cheap Airline Flights
As said there are so many price-comparison sites out there nowadays it's hard to know where to start your research on cheap airline flights - most people wind up just sticking with one favorite, like Kayak.com or Expedia's FareCompare - but this is really a leap of faith. Such sites may provide the best price for your trip, or they may not. Following is a more thorough step-by-step approach to shopping for rock-bottom fares. Note I am picking a few sites I feel are good, but there are others just as good.
Step 1: Start with a megasite. I like Travelocity.com myself. Here you'll have access to the airline's openly published fares. These are the fares that the airlines openly publicize and market. On Travelocity, just fill in the "From" and "To" fields, then click on "Flexible Dates" and then "Search Flights" -- this search will give you a list of the cheapest published rates. Have a notebook handy and write down the best deal or deals for your trip.
Step 2: Go to one of the discounted-fares sites. Try Kayak.com and check what they have to offer. If you find better deals than on Travelocity, write them down.
Step 3: Go to AirlineConsolidator.com and get a list of consolidators. These are companies that buy seats in bulk and resell them, usually to travel agents but also occasionally to individuals. For a really cheap airline flight, you should try to book a month or more in advance with a consolidator, though sometimes last-minute seats are available. Sometimes these consolidators have the best prices to be found anywhere. A few reputable consolidators are AirfarePlanet.com (based in Salem OR), DfwTours.com (based in Dallas TX), and PicassoTravel.net (based in Los Angeles CA). Again, if you find the best deal so far, write it down.
Step 4: Go to Priceline.com and submit a bid in which you reduce the lowest fare you've found in Steps 1 - 3 above by 20%. Submitting to Priceline is fairly simple for airline tickets. Just enter your home city and destination, your preferred dates, and number of tickets needed. Then choose the airports you want. Priceline will get back to you by email within an hour, telling you if your bid has been accepted or not. If it has, you'll receive your tickets by priority mail, usually within a couple days.
If you follow the above four steps on every trip you're virtually sure to save a bunch of money on airfare.
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen). Below is a listing of Web resources to help you
continue your research on cheap airline flights
II. For Additional Research
This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other
If you're planning a trip to London or Dubai from New York and want to go in style, here's something to look into. Silverjet is a British Airline that makes a specialization of style and comfort in the air at a price that's not prohibitive. You fly on a Boeing 767 fitted with 100 6'3" flat beds, you get freshly-cooked meals, a personal entertainment system, and a quiet environment in case you want to work or sleep. Plus, streamlined boarding and landing procedures. Pretty classy and comfortable way to get to London or Dubai, or back to New York from either of those cities.
My favorite among the three major travel sites - easiest-to-use and usually the best deals on cheap airline flights, hotels, car rental, last-minute deals, cruises, and even auto insurance.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL WEBSITES
Two new players in the international airline and travel arena are Lessno and Vayama. Lessno ("less money, no hassle") specializes in international air travel. The website was recently featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur and several other major publications. The site offers extremely competitive International, Economy and Business fares. Worth looking into if you're planning a trip to Europe, Asia or South America.
Vayama bills itself as "not just another travel web site, but instead Vayama is a new (and fun) way to search and book international flights. Compare 100's of international airfares in one place." Vayama says it offers--
- More international flights than any other website - 100+ airlines and 191 countries.
- Save up to 63% on international flights
- Offers international and domestic travel, but specializes in international
- Interactive world map and innovative 3-D seat maps
Although I haven't used this site to book an international flight, I've looked it over and yes, indeed, their interactive world map is a great map tool and an excellent way to access a very wide selection of airlines, routes and fares.
Related Web Search Guides
Other Web Search Guides you may find useful: