That's the ticket: finding a flight at a price that's right
It's no secret that budget travelers want to find the cheapest fares out there. Where to find them is another matter. Here's our updated primer on how to snare a decent airfare.
1. Look at historical data. By examining pricing history, a number of relatively new sites tell you if fares are heading up or down, or alert you to unusually low fares. At farecast.com, for example, do a search for one of the fares for the 75 domestic cities tracked by Farecast, and the site not only makes a prediction but indicates how sure it is of that prediction. Farecast also has a product called Fare Guard. For $9.95, it will lock in a price for one week, but only for fares it predicts will stay stable or go down during that time. Other sites that offer fare trending include farecompare.com and kayak.com, which recently merged with SideStep.com (both maintain a Web presence).
2. Check with an aggregator. Booking aggregators - including sidestep.com, kayak.com, and cheapflights.com - scan numerous booking sites and cull the results. Most also display hotels and car rentals.
Aggregators work in one of two ways: Either you download a program or go to a website. SideStep works both ways. You can go directly to its site and plug in your dates and other information. In the downloaded version, the SideStep toolbar pops up and runs a concurrent search when you're on another site; when it's done, it directs you to where you can book.
3. Go to an all-purpose travel site. The big three (orbitz.com, expedia.com, and travelocity.com) remain dominant, because you can book your flight, hotel, and car in one spot. All have exclusive Web deals, but some airlines aren't represented, fares can vary wildly and the sites charge a booking fee of $5 to $15.
4. Sign up for instant alerts. websites such as travelocity.com, kayak.com and orbitz.com offer fare-alert services that you can customize. Type in your parameters, and you'll receive an e-mail when a fare dips below or matches the price you've set. Likewise, download such features as
5. Look at airline and airport sites. Go to airline sites to see whether they can match the lowest fare you've found. You often can get extra frequent-flier miles for booking directly with the carrier, and you'll avoid the service fees on some of the all-purpose and aggregator sites (as well as the fees charged by some airlines if you call their reservations numbers).
Note that some discount carriers are not widely represented among the discounters and aggregators. Fares for Virgin America (virginamerica.com) can be found primarily on its website and on orbitz.com.
Also, check flight schedules on the airport sites - bwiairport.com and mwaa.com - to make sure you're not missing a carrier that flies a specific route but might not show up on the major booking sites. Southwest, for example, doesn't sell through third-party providers. USA 3000 (usa3000.com), which flies to Melbourne, Fla., and destinations in the Caribbean, is another airline you must check directly.
6. Check Priceline and Hotwire. Though
7. Check other budget sites. A number of sites - including cheaptickets.com, travelzoo.com, smartertravel.com, and independenttraveler.com - are frequently updated and full of bargains. The website for Budget Travel magazine (budgettravel.com) has tons of tips, as well as deals and a frequently updated blog.
Each Wednesday, Travelzoo unveils its Top 20 deals, which include airfare specials, packages, and hotel bargains. Look on the site or sign up to have them e-mailed to you.
8. Consider last-minute specialists or auction sites. Check out the packages at services such as Lastminute.com (
9. Turn off the computer . . . and contact a travel agent. Many charge fees for booking a ticket, but a good agent will know where to look for cheaper fares and can give you pointers on how to find them. Also, for complicated itineraries, such as an around-the-world ticket, check with an agent who works with consolidators; many consolidators don't deal directly with the public.
Check for an agent's good standing with the American Society of Travel Agents (travelsense.org).