Fly Away...

How To Get Great Deals on Airfare

By Sarah Williams (TMFKojo)
February 1, 2000

I have itchy feet, so I travel as often as I can. And I use the Internet to help me get wherever I want to go as cheaply as possible. After several fellow Fool employees asked me to find flights for them, it occurred to me that I should share my knowledge of shopping for airfare online. I will preface this discussion by saying that I am not a travel agent and never have been. I'm just a Fool, and what I've learned is strictly from personal experience.

Be Informed

As most folks know, the further in advance you buy a airline ticket, the lower the airfare will be -- with the exception of some deals I'll talk about later. So if you have some places you know you would always be interested in flying to, like your parents' home, Paris, or Honolulu, then you can have a nifty e-mail sent to you when the fare changes by $25 in either direction. I use Travelocity's Fare Watcher Email for this feature. Expedia offers a similar product called "Fare Tracker."

Comparison Shop

There are always those times when you can't wait for a great deal to come along. My usual course of action in such cases is to use Travelocity as a benchmark. I go there and use their 9 Best Itineraries feature to get an idea of what the "going rate" is. You can find that by clicking on "Find/Book a Flight." Most other travel sites offer a variation on this theme. Here are the results of some comparison shopping:

Flights leaving Washington, DC for Tulsa, Las Vegas, and Sydney Australia on March 28 and returning April 4.


DC   to           Tulsa    Las Vegas    Sydney 
(WAS)             (TUL)     (LAS)       (SYD)   219.50    229.00     1585.80       233.28    514.35     1628.00       220.00    229.00     1680.65  210.00    229.00     1680.80           204.00    229.00     1680.65      183.12    193.13     1680.65    172.58    229.00     1680.80       230.00    229.00     1680.80      239.00    198.00     1628.00
Air-4-less        210.00    288.00     1757.00    392.00    474.00   Not Found
Walmart travel    302.00    229.00     1680.65 198.00    318.00     1278.65  204.00    229.00     1585.80   230.00    229.00     1680.80

All fares as of 1/27/2000 in US dollars

As you can see, no one site has consistently cheaper airline tickets than the others, so you have to be patient and look around.

Getting It Even Cheaper

Once you have found the lowest airfare, most of the travel sites will let you place your seats on hold 24 hours. Warning: you are only putting the SEATS on hold, not the price. If the fare goes up while you are waiting, the price on your reserved plane ticket will go up.

Next, go to Expedia's Flight Price Matcher or Priceline and request the same flight between 5% to 15% lower than the fare you reserved. Both Expedia and Priceline let you name your own price, but you have to put in a credit card number to "lock it in." The only problem with these services is that you can't choose the airline or control the flight times. If they can match your bid, you have automatically purchased the ticket, and the flights are usually not refundable or returnable. I suggest only using this method if you know what day you are traveling but you don't care what time you arrive.

Special Discounts

Are you 25 or younger? 62 or older? A teacher? A student in a school of any sort? Able to find nine folks to come with you? There may be even more deals for you.

If you are 62 or older, you qualify as a senior, and most airlines will give you an automatic 10% senior citizen discount when you purchase tickets. Plus, they will extend the offer to folks who are traveling with you.

Many airlines sell senior travel packages that contain four flight coupons, each good for a one-way trip on that airline's route structure within the United States. A good summary of the coupons is available at smarterliving.

TWA offers 4 flight coupons to people under the age of 25, similar to the senior packages described above.

If you are between 18 and 22 and can fly standby, Airtran offers $47 flights until December 14, 2000. This deal does not allow travelers to check luggage, so be sure to pack lightly.

Finally, if you have a big family, or lots of friends or acquaintances, you can almost always get 10 flights for the price of 9. When you make reservations with the airlines, ask for the group rate. There is usually one available.

If you are under 25, a student or a teacher, you may qualify for discounted airfare. Check out the following sites:

These links aren't always the lowest ticket prices, so look carefully. But they are designed for student travelers and may offer other benefits, like extended stays not available through regular tickets. For example, if you take an international flight to Europe on Iceland Air, you can stop for up to two weeks in Iceland without incurring extra charges.

Last Minute Flying

Now, I realize that some of you want to wait till the last minute for that romantic getaway, or an impromptu trip to the beach or ski resort. There are links for you, too! In an attempt to fill up empty seats, most airlines post weekend specials on Tuesday for international travel and Wednesday for travel within the U.S. The prices for the last-minute flights are often half off the "regular airfare," but they are almost always only good for flying out that Friday or Saturday. Try these links to find last-minute deals:

The best way I have found to monitor the last-minute deals is to sign up for the weekly e-mails that airlines send out. You can sign up for all of them at once or select the airlines you prefer at this link.

So, Fools, those are my tricks of the trade. But I'm sure there are lots more out there. Please post your traveling tips on our Cheap Flights message board. See you in the friendly skies.