The airline-pricing world is still evolving. Over the past few years, the Internet has allowed travelers to easily compare prices and encouraged the growth of the low-cost airlines. Only months ago, the best airfares were found on Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline.
Today, a new breed of price meta-search sites provides side-by-side price comparisons and the airlines are beginning to offer the best price on their own sites. With these latest "guaranteed low fare" changes, you now have an opportunity to save even more. But the intrepid flier should follow these steps or ask a travel agent to find the best fares.
Here is the online routine, step-by-step, when the lowest price is your primary goal. Of course, there are more considerations, such as convenience and frequent flier miles, but these tactics to the best airfares will provide the lowest fare.
Step 1. The best place to start is with the new meta-search engines — Kayak, Sidestep, Farechase and Mobissimo. These price-scraper sites go out and search other sites and compile fares on one screen. These are a great place to start. However, consumers should know that each site does not check airfares from every travel or airline site.
Step 2. Check with Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity. These sites also allow you to compare airfares across-the-board for multiple airlines. Take notes. These three sites have side-deals with different airlines. The price for a flight on Expedia is not always the same as a price for the exact same flight on Travelocity or Orbitz. However, these sites together with the meta-search sites above will give you an excellent overall view of the pricing landscape.
Step 3. Look up the price for your trip on your favorite airline Web site. Some airlines are not affiliated with meta-search engines or with Expedia/Travelocity/Orbitz such as Southwest and jetBlue. Other sites such as AA.com offer a "guaranteed low fare." No low-fare search is complete without a look at southwest.com or jetblue.com or an airline’s own site.
OK. Now you have a reasonable idea of what the lowest available airline-provided price is for your trip.
Opaque ticketing. If you don’t care about the airline or routing, there’s an extra step you can take.
Click into Hotwire. Go through the reservation process. Hotwire will give you an "opaque fare" that only specifies the date of travel, not the time or the airline. (These fares are often lower than any airline-provided fare, even the Internet fares. But not always.)
Then, go to Priceline and make a bid for a flight between the same airports on the same dates. Bid lower than the offered Hotwire fare. According to some Web experts and my own experience, a lower Priceline bid — about 10 to 15 percent lower than the Hotwire fare — will normally be accepted.
If you get your price, you win. If your bid in not accepted, you still have the Hotwire fare to fall back on.
There it is. Seems simple. But remember this system is only for those with "lowest-fare" as their goal.
If you’re focused on collecting frequent flier miles this system will allow you to see how much your "free miles" actually cost. If you’re looking for a package, often Expedia/Travelocity/Orbitz provide even better pricing when hotel and car are bundled with airfares.
Finding a low fare ain't easy anymore. If you have time you can find the best fares, but for some of us, travel agents are starting to look pretty good again.
Charlie Leocha writes regularly for Tripso.com. He also is the creator of skisnowboard.com, the most detailed snow resort destination information. Go to either site for more articles and to sign up for their daily or weekly travel newsletters.
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