SEARCHING FOR AIRFARE
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
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
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
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
There's a nifty little program called SideStep that you can
download for free at SideStep.com. 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 Cheaptickets.com, Lowestfare.com,
1travel.com, Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. 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.
1travel.com gave me a price of $268. Hotwire.com 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
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.