September 1, 2004
Come Fly With Me
A few sites offer discounted airfare, but comparison shopping is the best strategy
The convenience of online travel booking has sent many agents the way of the dinosaur. For international travel, multiple destinations, and other special trips, an agent might be your best bet, but for the do-it-yourselfer searching for a great deal on domestic airfare, look no further than the nearest Internet connection.
Type “airfare” in any search engine, and you’re likely to find everything from commercial airline sites to online booking agencies such as Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz to ticket consolidators such as Hotwire and Priceline. With so many options, it can be overwhelming. Just invest a little time and effort and you’re sure to find the airfare deal that suits you best.
GO TO THE SOURCE
Check the cost of your trip with major airline carriers to get a good sense of the price range once you move on to the online agencies. Try to find out which airlines have established hubs in your area. Looking for the airline with the most real estate in the airport nearest you should provide a clue. Those will be the ones likely to have some of the best fares since they offer more flights. You’re also more likely to get a nonstop flight. As an added incentive, individual carriers often offer bonus miles to frequent fliers for booking through their site.
Once you’ve got your travel dates and a sense of the fares, it’s time to do some real comparison shopping.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Before you head off to sites such as Expedia or Orbitz, check out FareReport.com. This site will give you airfare averages on routes throughout the country. You’ll find out which airline has the largest market share for your destination and airlines with the lowest fare. Unfortunately, FareReport.com doesn’t have every U.S. departure city, and international destinations are somewhat limited.
With your airline price quotes and fare report in hand, its time to check out the likes of Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. These online booking sites have deals with numerous carriers and usually offer choices from several airlines. Since they only provide access to airlines’ published fares, these sites usually give you similar results. Once published and filed with the government, a fare is available directly from the airline as well as from all its appointed agents, including brick-and-mortar travel agencies, online agencies, and those that sell both online and offline.
The Airfare Checker at BetterBidding.com (www.betterbidding.com/air farechecker) lets you check all three online agencies at the same time. You will need to know the three letter airport code (i.e., LAX not Los Angeles) of your departure and arrival cities to use this site. Plug in your travel details and you’ll get a split screen that displays the results from Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz.
One advantage the booking sites have over single carrier sites is that they can often find better deals for multiple-destination trips because they can combine flights from different carriers. Some booking sites offer special tools to help you find the best deal.