Saturday, August 1, 2009

Airline Tickets: Do the Extra Research, Save Extra Cash

Boeing 777-223ER landing at London Heathrow Ai...Image via Wikipedia

Wren and I just purchased two international airline tickets for two adults at the absolute cheapest price we could find. About $270 apiece roundtrip. You might already know how to find budget airline tickets online on the cheap, but we thought we did too. Read on.

When shopping online, the overall idea is to REFINE and then REDEFINE your flight search until you find the lowest price. The following are tips on how to refine your online search. And it’s a compilation of things we'd been overlooking until now.

  • Open many browser windows. A simple idea, but this is the easiest way to compare prices. Nearly all airline sites and ticket aggregator sites use the same type of ticket search, so it’s easy to refine your search. If you start to get confused by so many browser tabs, print out each window and compare the hardcopies.

  • Try Vayama, a site that was new to us, and where we found our best price and saved an additional $30 with a coupon. Vayama often offers such coupons for same-day booking. No booking fee.
  • Search airline sites, booking agency sites (like Expedia or Orbitz), AND aggregator sites (like Kayak or Vayama). Many booking agencies charge fees, and most aggregator sites do not. Once you’ve found the lowest fare, go directly to that airline’s site and compare prices. Sometimes booking directly through the airline can save you a few dollars. Hint: if you use Kayak, you can have it search Vayama, Priceline, and a few other aggregators as well.
  • Try making one transaction/purchase per passenger in your group. For example, if two people are traveling together, don’t assume that you have to purchase two tickets with one credit card transaction. Instead, compare that price with the cost of purchasing two tickets separately. We found that, for some reason, booking flights separately saved us $15 each. Note: This might not be worth it if the flight is near full, and if there’s any doubt that all persons in your group can get a seat on the flight!
  • Try departing from a major hub. But take all costs into consideration. We found that we could save quite a lot by departing from O’Hare, instead of from our local hub. The savings—while considering the time and gas spent driving to Chicago, lodging, and even parking—were well worth it. This option is especially applicable to international flights.
  • Is your schedule flexible? Then experiment with departing on different days of the week. It is not always the case, but we found that departing on a Wednesday saved us more than departing on a Friday.
  • Use cheap airlines? Not always. “Discount” airlines like Spirit and JetBlue often post astronomically low fares. But we found that, after taxes and fees, or after the price of membership, the total price of a discount airline flight can actually be more than the price of a similar major airline flight.
  • Keep an eye on flight lengths and layover lengths. We could have saved $50 by choosing another airline, but the overnight layover wasn’t even close to worth it.
  • Check the airline’s baggage policies before purchasing your tickets. Many airlines, such as Continental and U.S. Airways, are now charging for all checked bags, often $15 for the first checked bag, $25 for the second, and $100 for every bag after that. A few airlines, like American, however, still allow one or two free checked bags for some flights (in American’s case, you can check two bags for free on certain international flights). Estimate the number of bags you’ll need to bring, and factor their costs into the flight prices when comparing. The same goes for traveling with pets or other special needs. Find out the airline’s policy before you purchase tickets and factor in any additional costs.
Good luck and happy travels!

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