Cheap Airline Fares! 

by Peter

Online Travel Services
Consolidators
International
Search Sites
Bidding Sites

It has come to my attention that people in this group might not know how to get the cheapest fares for airline tickets.  SO, here's a resource of all the stuff available on the web.

Online Travel Services

Note:  the following ONLY APPLIES DOMESTICALLY.  International flying is a different flavor of soup (see below).

For domestic flights, I have two favorites.  The first is a beta site of a company that develops cheap ticket-finding software,  called ita software.  They're developing the "orbitz" site that many major airlines are sponsoring. This site can be found at itasoftware.com

UPDATE:  note that the orbitz site is now up, at http://www.orbitz.com.  You can't book a ticket there, but they do have a nice interface.  Note that the old beta site does offer additional functionality, such as the ability to find "senior" fares.

My other favorite is Travelocity.com, which allows you to see the lowest published fares.  Not always possible to get, but a goal, none-the-less.  You can also access the travelocity info through Yahoo!.

Other travel services are Expedia, which tends to be better internationally than Travelocity, , and various airline sites:  AmericanContinental, Northwest, US Airways, and United.   The advantages of the sites:  you book through them, you get a bonus 1000 frequent flyer miles.  On the other hand, they might not give you the best fares...

Finally, why take an airplane, when you can take the train?  Book Amtrak!  Quick story:  I wanted to book a train trip from LA to Houston for Thanksgiving.  Amtrak found me a ticket all right: connecting in Chicago!  See the following map:

versus:

bit nutty, that. 

Consolidators

The travel agents above can find the cheapest published fare.  But what about unpublished fares?  The way to get those are consolidators.  To see some of the prices, look at BestFares.com.  You have to be a member to get the very good fares.  I happen to be a member, and if you're very nice to me, I MIGHT be able to help you out.  BE VERY CAREFUL about using these tickets.  They're very restricted, and you're s.o.l. if you have to change.  My adventure on a super-discounted fare (BTW, not bestfares) can be found here.  

Late breaking update:  I've booked my first "bestfares" fare.  I need to get to Fredericton, AGAIN, and fares are outrageous.  $750 on Air Canada, or $500 into the nearest US city (4-6 hr. drive).  B.F. gets me in to Fredericton for ~$500, so we'll see.

Even Later update:  the trip was a disaster, but no blame on Bestfares.  The blame wholly and exclusively rests on Air Canada, the dog of the North.  They are the monopoly now for Canadian flights, and demonstrated it very effectively.

Send me an email.  Otherwise, Katie has her own favorite guy ( I wouldn't trust him!).  CheapTickets claims to be a consolidator, but I've never found a good price.

More information can be found here.

International Flights

International flights are a whole different enchilada.  Unlike domestic flights, all airlines seem to sell international seats sold to consolidators in huge lots, for deep discounts.  For example, I've recently priced an itinerary to Paris on United airlines.  Travelocity offered a price of $822.  Expedia came in at $1100.  Many consolidators offered me $700, and the best of all, economytravel.com, offered me the tickets for $560.  pretty sweet.  Rules to follow:

1) check restrictions!  Often these tickets cannot be changed, or only changed with great difficulty and expense.

2)  realize that you've no clout with the airlines;  they tend to screw with people flying cheap tickets.

3)  Many consolidator tickets do not grant frequent flier miles, which can have significant value for long flights.

4)  The tickets are generally NOT upgradable.

My favorites:

www.economytravel.com  

Search Engines

These are unaffiliated groups that for some reason will quote you a fare.  My new favorite is a beta site:  itasoftware.

Bidding Sites

I personally don't like these.  The fares are in a special fare code that doesn't allow upgrades, and you're viewed rather dimly by the gate agents when trouble arises.  However, the fares can get pretty good...

The granddaddy of them all is priceline.  I've heard good, I've heard bad.  You name a price, and can get stuck with some awful stuff. Other site with more control:  iWant, which looks promising.

Other Stuff

for some general background, try this site.