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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


Airline prices in the United States have been deregulated since 1978, leaving the industry free to adjust prices at a moments notice. In fact, prices change literally a thousand times in any given week. To play the airfare game properly you must develop strategies that will enable you to take advantage of all the pricing options available.

It's natural to assume that you get the best price for an airline ticket by dealing with the carrier direct. The airlines are under no obligation to sell you the cheapest seat. In fact, dealing directly with the airline might be the worst option.

I needed to book a roundtrip flight from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona. I planned to stay for 7 days. I waited until a month before departure to make my reservations.

I started my search by calling several airlines toll free number. I wasn't in a hurry to divulge too much information. That gives the reservations agent power over your purchasing decisions. Instead I asked the questions. First I had to find out the lowest published fare without giving specific dates and times.

Then I asked about flight times and dates that matched the low fare. Several had multiple stops or flew at less than optimum times, but at least the decision to purchase a more expensive seat rested with me, not the airlines. Northwest Airlines gave me the cheapest price at $257. Next came Continental at $330.

That was just the beginning of my airfare-shopping extravaganza. I went online to check several airline website. To entice travelers to shop online, most carriers offer Internet only fares that reservation agent might not be privy to. Much to my surprise the $257 ticket price offered by Northwest was available online. But the $330 price the Continental agent quoted me was just $257 online.

Next, I decided to try one of the big online travel agencies like Travelocity and Expedia. Using these online giants allows you to compare the prices of several carriers at once. These sites usually provide published fares and don't offer much in the way of discounts. The cheapest flight I found on Travelocity was $329.

There's a nifty little program called SideStep that you can download for free at This program searches over 120 different travel suppliers in real time while you are searching for fares on other sites. The results can be displayed by airline, price, flight, time or number of stops. Using the SideStep software I found flights to Phoenix ranging from $257 to $398.

But if you want true discounts lower than the published fares find a discounter or consolidator. There are only a few that handle domestic airfare and all can be reached online or by phone. The quick list includes,,, and Some of these discount tickets come with heavy restrictions. Most are nonrefundable, nonchangeable, and nontransferable. On Hotwire the price you're quoted is only good for an hour and the itinerary is not revealed until you purchase the tickets. gave me a price of $268. had the best deal at $206. I opted not to deal with Hotwire because and I wanted the option to change my travel plans should the need arise.

Lastly, I checked with my travel agent. Many of the larger agencies have deals with the airlines for reduced price tickets. She found several carriers that matched the $257 offered by Northwest and Continental. To get the best deals on domestic airfare purchase your tickets at least 14 days in advance. Watch out for added fees, especially if you book online.