Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Do You Find the Lowest Airfare?

People often ask "what airfare search engine do you use to find the best deals"?  My answer is "Ugh, I hate searching airfares because no one site lists them all".  This has never been truer than now since airlines are starting to pull their agreements with our familiar search engines like Orbitz, Expedia, Bookit.com, and others.  The issue is that these booking sites charge the airlines for listing their prices and airlines would prefer customers to visit their own website to book.

It's not a huge issue for me since I have my own procedure for searching airfares that does not involve booking with the discount websites.  I have been burned by Expedia when I bought a ticket to Europe and when I got to LAX, the ticket agent informed me that in the time since I booked the flight an extra leg had been added to the itinerary and my ticket did not include the extra leg.  Bottom line I was denied boarding and phoning Expedia and American only resulting in both saying it was the other's fault.  It made my arrival in Athens a day late where I was to pick up tickets and meet clients and escort them through Greece and Turkey.  My friend Bob had a similar problem with Travelocity when the airline and booking site both claimed it was the other's fault.

Here is what I do:  I use the discount sites to get an idea of what prices should be and what airlines fly the route I need, then I go directly to the airline's websites to search for lowest fares depending on day and time of travel.  Sometimes I go to my arrival city airport website to see what airlines serve that city.  Then I start narrowing down by number of stops, time of day, type of equipment used, etc.  This is all very time consuming, but I have much more control over the process than booking with a travel agent or an on-line discount site.  Travel agents are valuable allies and the ultimate time savers who do much of the work I've just mentioned, but you are not guaranteed the rock-bottom lowest price..... they only have so much time to invest making bookings that yield them just a few dollars commission.

If you have a good relationship with a travel agent and your bottom line is price, they can book through a consolidator (also known as "bucket shop") that are not available to individuals.  These companies buy blocks of seats far in advance for a discount, then are able to sell them at lower prices.  You'll pay an agent service charge of around $25, but your flight (major cities only) will be about the cheapest you'll find.

So to boil this down, your airfare price will largely depend on how much time and energy you put into the search.

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