Friendly skies for less -- finding travel bargains online
One of the advantages of being retired is that you get more leisure time to travel. Here are some ways to stretch your travel dollars further...
Online Fare Engines
Like search engines for websites, there are search engines for airfares. Orbitz (orbitz.com) is probably the best known, as it was started by the big 5 airlines. However, there are others, like Travelocity.com, Expedia.com, and Qixo.com.
Other smaller websites also cash in on the business, like CheapTickets.com, LastMinuteTravel.com, and AirfareScout.com.
Using these websites are simple: just enter the origin, destination, and the days you like to travel on, and let it find a fare for you. You may have to register for a membership, but a "trial" membership is usually free.
Most of these websites also let you book more than just airfare. Hotels, car rentals, even vacation packages are available on most of these websites, usually at a significant discount off the standard rates.
Don't Ignore the Source
If you only search via the fare engines, you may not find the best deal. Some airlines, such as United and Southwest, only advertise best fares on their own websites. In fact, Southwest fares do NOT appear on any fare search engine. United hides its special e-fares on its website. Others give extra miles and such for flights booked on their website.
For example, a ticket from San Francisco to Dallas usually costs about $500 roundtrip, even with 14-day advanced purchase. A United e-fare, with just a weekend stay-over requirement, can be as low as $190, with merely 24-hour advance purchase.
If you have one of those frequent flier memberships, check that airline's website before you buy the ticket. You may be able to get more miles and such. Just beware that often these special flights are NOT eligible for mileage.
Be Flexible and Score Even More
Most airlines reward weekend stay-overs by lowering prices over weekend stays. In fact, United has a special e-fares section just for week-enders, as much as 75% off regular round-trip fares. Currently, their round-trip ticket from SFO (San Francisco) to DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth) is $298.
If you can move the departure or the return dates by a day or two in either direction, you may be able to take advantage of these special pricings. Orbitz.com has a "Matrix" display that shows you the prices for one or two days before and after your planned dates so you can see the potential savings.
Red-eye flights, those that depart or arrive very early or very late, are usually discounted. If you don't mind flying in the "wee hours" you can save money.
If you have multiple airports nearby (for example, San Francisco has THREE airports nearby: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose) you may be able to get a better deal flying out of one of the other airports instead of the nearest. However, this is best done for long-distance travel, as the savings may not be worth the extra hassle for short trips.
Blind Tickets and Name-Your-Own-Price
If your travel schedule is flexible, you can save even more by buying "blind tickets". Hotwire is probably the best-known "blind" ticket seller.
The way "blind ticket" works is simple. You buy the ticket "blind". You don't know which airline or even what time the flight will leave. They will guarantee you a MAJOR airline, and no more than a certain number of stops, on that specific day. You get the flight number and the exact times after you BUY the ticket. You can save up to 50% when compared to most tickets. However, most will require you to sign up, and only about 1 hour to buy those blind tickets after you get the "quote".
Priceline is the company that really pushed "name your own price" slogan, and they do work. However, the airline is not required to accept your offer, and this back-and-forth can be a real hassle for those who just want to see a low price. Offer a decent price and you're more likely to be accepted, but if you offer too high it's not a bargain.
Consolidators: may have interesting deals
If you are traveling to popular destinations like Florida, Hawaii, etc., or popular International destinations, you may want to check with a consolidator. They buy up large blocks of seats on certain flights, and sell them piecemeal.
Airlines are guaranteed a number of sales, while you get the low price of group purchase. However, consolidators do not have the good selection of routes. Think of them as the super "clubs" of airfares: great deals, but lousy selection. You can find consolidators in your local phonebook, or contact your travel agent, who should know a few.
Don't forget your travel agent
Your local travel agent may still have a trick or two up his or her sleeve. Don't assume that the proliferation of Internet has wiped them out. They are still there, and still provide a better service than some nameless web page.
Call them up and see if they can pull up the same fare you found via the Internet, and see if they can find better. They have direct access into the booking system and may be able to locate unadvertised fares that is not listed in the fare search engines. Maybe they know about a hotel promotion that goes with your fare, or car rental upgrades, and so on. Nothing really beats personal service.
It is not hard to find travel bargains on the web nowadays with a computer. By knowing what to search for, you can save more money and have more fun on your vacations.
Have fun out there, and I'll see you on the web.