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Finding the best airfare may take some time, but most agree that the effort is worth it. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Sister City Airports
  • Split City Tickets
  • Carrier Selection
  • Terms & Conditions
  • Airline Consolidators
  • Department Specialists
  • Bucket Shop Airlines
  • On-Line Reservations Systems
  • Saturday Night Stay
  • Corporate Contracted and/or Government Airfares
  • Self-Booking Technology
  • Airline-Specific Internet Sites

  • 1. Sister City Airports: Maybe you shouldn't be traveling to where you're traveling; maybe you should be traveling near to where you're traveling. Although nothing is set in cement, as a general rule, Midway is cheaper than O'Hare, Oakland is cheaper than San Francisco, Canton is cheaper than Cleveland, BWI is cheaper than either Dulles and/or Reagan, and Providence is cheaper than Logan. Is it always practical? No. It depends not only on the nature of the trip, but also the VIP level of the traveler, the budget, and the window of time allotted for the trip. Can a travel agency help? You bet. As opposed to an Internet site that offers what it offers with no apology, a travel agency is supposed to provide all options, and then let you decide for yourself which is best.

    2. Split City Tickets: Have you ever noticed that, in a restaurant, ordering a-la-carte sometimes gets you a better deal than buying the entire dinner? Airline tickets work the same way. Sometimes, by breaking a ticket into its component parts, you can come up with a cheaper fare than if you just order a "through-ticket." Once again, this is where a travel agency computer can benefit, analyzing each option in a fraction of the time that you could do it yourself.

    3. Carrier Selection: In these days of industry polarization, airlines have become divided into the so called "emerging" carriers (Southwest, Jet Blue, Air Tran, ATA, Frontier and Spirit) and the "legacy" carriers (American, United, US Airways, Delta, Northwest, Continental). The first tend to make money, the latter tend to lose money. The first tends to charge lower prices, the latter higher. Is there a correlation? Most analysts think yes but, despite the fact that using a new airline creates a certain level of anxiety, it is to the consumer's advantage that support be offered to the carriers, forcing down, not raising, prices.

    4. Terms & Conditions: In analyzing an airline ticket price, there is the base cost, and then there are the extras: change fees, same-day standby fees, luggage fees, and cancellation fees. A new wrinkle includes frequent flyer points, and the choice of some airlines to penalize travelers with lower awards when they buy a less expensive ticket. Who can help sort out the options, and guide you through the minefield of extra charges and penalties? We believe the travel agency is still best for this service. The on-line reservation systems say they can match, but not all agree. With the Internet, especially if you request options by price, lowest is first, highest is last and terms and conditions are often downplayed.

    5. Airline Consolidators:Airline consolidators are volume discounters that offer reduced rates to specific locations, usually overseas, at sometimes half the cost of the GDS and on-line reservation systems. For more information, contact either your agency or your travel coordinator.

    6. Department Specialists: Department specialists are agencies and/or consolidators whose negotiated airfares are uniquely designed for certain campus departments and/or situations. As an example, there are student travel specialists with waived maximum stay for year-abroad programs, and reduced one-time return charges for family emergencies. Additionally, there are athletic specialists whose rates take into account name changes, injury replacements and early returns (not every team wins every tournament).

    7. Bucket Shop Airlines: The term "Bucket Shop" is a 60's term describing dozens of discounted travel agencies, most of whom were located in London, that offered incredibly cheap fares for both air only and week-long travel packages. Bucket Shop Airlines is our extension of that term; they are also primarily European, also offer very cheap fares- sometimes as low as $10 to fly from the UK across the channel to continental Europe- and model themselves after Southwest in the USA. Everyone knows their names- Easy Jet, Ryan Air and BMI- the problem is finding them. You don't have that problem. They're all on your website.

    8. On-Line Reservations Systems: Based on sheer volume, the big three are Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, but many travelers also swear by Priceline, Cheap Tickets and Hotwire. Additionally, there are overseas on-line services like Select Travel and E-Booker that can be particularly useful for incoming, overseas originating flights. The thing to be careful of is the extent to which cancellation, change and same-day standby charges are downplayed, and the airline options that are not included. As an example, Southwest, Amtrak, Jet Blue, the volume discounters, and/or athletic/study abroad consolidator specialists are rarely included.

    9. Saturday Night Stay: The frustrating thing about the requirement for Saturday night stay is that, despite the fact that the new, emerging carriers have shown that this particular criteria for cheap fares is unnecessary in maximizing profit, the legacy airlines still insist on forcing their use. Is it worth hundreds of dollars in daily hotel, car and food costs to establish eligibility for a non-refundable ticket? As with other bargains, it depends on the nature of the trip, the traveler, and the budget with, once again, the travel agency as a useful source to sort out options.

    10. Corporate Contracted and/or Government Airfares: There was a time when corporate negotiated airfares could save significant sums, even off non-refundable and already discounted tickets. Those times have changed, with most corporate contracts restricted to discounts off the highest fares, ones most people simply don't use. If you are lucky enough to have access to state or federal airfares, that's a different story. These fares are one-way, refundable, cheap, and are highly recommended where institutional eligibility makes them an option.

    11. Self Booking Technology: They go by many names, SideStep, ResX, Cliqbook, and Fare Chase, but the idea is that, by scraping the screens of both conventional and on-line systems to find the cheapest fares, they preclude the use of human agent assistance and, as a consequence, can charge lower fees. As with on-line systems, the thing to be careful of is the extent to which cancellation, change and same-day standby charges are downplayed, and the airline options that are not included. As an example, only some of the systems include Southwest, Amtrak and Jet Blue and none of them include volume discount and/or athletic/study abroad consolidator specialists.

    12. Airline Specific Internet Sites: The one huge benefit that airline sites have over their third party equivalents is that they can offer last minute, Internet-only specials, waive all service fees- even the $5 ones- and offer bonus frequent flyer points at the drop of a hat.

    There are other tips, like foregoing paper tickets where possible (extra cost to purchase, extra fees to replace if lost), exploring air/hotel and/or car combination packages (if your trip fits their requirements, you can save a bundle), consider auctions, take advantage of promotional coupons offering zone fares, and- goodness, I almost forgot- consider train travel, especially those in the Northeast Corridor or other areas offering high-speed inner-city access.

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