Tips for Finding Lower Airfares
Regardless of how you search for fares, some guidelines can lower your airfare and shorten the time to find a good price.
(1) Start your trip planning early. Most airlines have a price curve that relates to the departure date. A good illustration of this can be seen using a Farecast travel tool called “Know When to Fly”.
Their graph shows that if I were to purchase a ticket on Nov 4th to Las Vegas that departs on Nov 4th, I would pay around $270. But, if I purchase the ticket for a December 3 departure, the cost drops to around $118. You can also see the spike in price for Thanksgiving travel caused by holiday demand.
Another advantage to planning early is some services offer email alert services.
(2) Be flexible with your dates. Shifting your departure date may result in significant savings. The days that offer the best fares include departures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Sometimes extending your stay can cut the airfare.
(3) Know your neighborhood. The first part of this rule is to know if there are nearby airports. For example, SFO is my closest airport, but I might be able to get a lower price using San Jose or Oakland airports. The corollary is to know the airlines that service your airport.
(4) Be realistic about time and money. Sometimes it makes sense to pay extra for the convenience of a closer airport or a better schedule. Saving $60 on a “red eye” flight might cost you more in productivity if you can’t sleep on the plane. The same is true if you add a 2-hour layover in an airport where you can’t get work done.
(5) Learn the fare rules. Getting the best price for your airline ticket may come with restrictions. Before booking, make sure you’ve read the fare rules. Some airlines have costly penalties if you need to make a change. You may want to offset the risk with travel insurance.
(6) Start broad and then refine your results. Also, use different services as they may display different carriers.
(7) All things appearing equal go to the airline site. If during a price scan, you see several vendors display the same airfare for a flight and one is the airline, start with them. The airlines may offer a price guarantee or better restrictions.
(8) Not all planes or carriers have the same cabin service. Some flights do not have business or first class seating.
(9) Be aware of airline ticket rules.
Using Travel Search Engines
Although you may have used services such as Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity, there are also sites known as travel search engines. These sites take your trip criteria, reformat the information, and query other travel sites using the proper search syntax. The benefit is you don’t have to go to many sites, re-enter the query and compare the results.
For our review, we tried four travel search engines, Farechase, Kayak, SideStep, and Farecast. In the screen snaps, we used the same trip itinerary to show the default features.
Trip Type: Round trip
Departing City: San Francisco
Time: December 3, 2007 (anytime)
Arriving City: Las Vegas
Time: December 8, 2007 (anytime)
Nearby Airports: Yes
Overall, we were pleased with the results, but there are differences. Before you start your search, you might be interested in some things we learned.
1. None of the services included all airlines. You still may have to use other sources to get the complete picture. In my example, not everyone picked up Virgin America or Southwest Airlines.
2. Even if the services use the same data sources, the results can differ. I suspect this is a result of different pricing algorithms and how often the source databases are refreshed.
3. The services differ on nearby airports. Some services had a tighter radius and showed fewer airport alternatives.
4. The results were best for just adults. We got spotty results when trying to get rates for seniors, children and adults.
5. Most of these services would allow you to compare results with other sites. The comparison site was usually launched in a new browser window. Some of the comparison sites may show prices before taxes and other fees.
Yahoo! Farechase (http://farechase.yahoo.com)
As with many Yahoo! products, the interface is clean and allows the user to enter in some advanced features. They allowed you to segment passengers by age and choose a cabin type. If you’re a Yahoo! user there are additional features you can take advantage of such as an IM flight planner.
Farechase results showed which airline pricing sites they queried to get their pricing results. The user can refine their search by deselecting items from the left side. Clicking the airline’s name provided a window showing flight details such as flight number, aircraft type, flying time and miles.
Results: 178 flights from 4 airports with a low airfare of $118.
Kayak also has a pleasing interface that offers more options such different country versions. It was the only site that allowed you to filter by mileage alliance. The search panel allows you to compare data from other travel sites. You may also choose for hotels at the same time.
Besides providing the standard results, Kayak lists the flight times. The Chart option showed trending data for your departure date and that month. You can make any flight result a “favorite” which moves it to the top of your list.
Another nice feature was the flight detail section showed how many seats were left at that price and the fare code.
Results: 468 Flights from 7 airports and lowest airfare was $118. They also included flights with Southwest Airlines, but did not include the pricing data.
One noticeable difference with SideStep is they add two options for Infants, which is a nice feature for families. They also have a site for the United Kingdom.
Like Kayak, SideStep also included more nearby airports. The default results added a filter to ensure that your flights used the same airline. That is why you see 200 of 318 results. If you deselect this option, all the results show.
The results page was similar to the Matrix page of Kayak. There was a slight difference in prices for the same flights on other services. For example, the other services had a $118 flight that you could book through united.com. On SideStep, United was not a booking option and the cost was $122.
Results: 318 flights from 7 airports with the lowest airfare at $122.
At first glance, Farecast looks similar to the other travel search engines. The main difference lies in their pricing predictions for economy class.
At the top of your results, you’ll see a small pricing graph and one of five pricing indicator icons. These icons give you feedback on whether you should buy in the next 7 days. The decision is based on analysis they have done on flights at 75 different airports. Not all flights have this prediction. You can also purchase a plan to lock in the current price.
The flight details section did not show the plane type, but they did show some fare restrictions. For example, we could see that our $118 fare was non-refundable.
Results: 419 flights from 7 airports with the lowest airfare of $118.
After testing the four services, I would say all provide value, but none had everything I wanted. They all identified the United flights that had the lowest airfares. My ideal service would be a blend of Kayak and Farecast. As the saying goes, “your mileage may differ” based on your destinations. In my case, I’ll probably opt to pay an extra $5 and take the Virgin America flight.
Last Updated (Friday, 18 June 2010 20:58)