Finding Airline tickets - A New Approach
is becoming a longer and longer process. It used to be so
easy in the past before the Internet when you would just
pull out the travel section of a newspaper, look for a company
that sold discount airline tickets, called the toll free
number and purchased them- at a fraction of what they cost
those good old days of newspapers and toll free numbers
are gone. They've been replaced with a billion web sites,
online ordering and sometimes toll free numbers.
I'm still living
in the good old days when I could by a $500 round trip open
ticket from NY to Athens. After moving to Chapel Hill, North
Carolina(RDU airport), the combination of moving from a
major international airport to a smaller one and moving
20 years into the future has giving me a sticker price shock
when it comes to ticket shopping.
I have taken
a new approach to shopping for my tickets. In the past it
was a one or two week process, basically looking through
a couple of Sunday Travel sections, looking and sales and
then making a few phone calls. Now I look at it as a process
that could take months of careful research(translation-
searching the web).
I usually try
to travel to Greece in Sept/October which works for me because:
1. Flights are usually less expensive
2. The weather in Greece is more pleasant then
3. There are less tourists
4. Accommodation rates are lower
5. My yacht
charter business slows done and I can take some time
Once I have the
dates down I can start searching. I also have a ballpark
figure of what want to pay($750-1000 per person including
taxes). At this point I have all the information I need.
Number of people, dates, starting and ending point and approximate
price I want to pay.
The first step
I take is to run a general
search to see what the going rates are(and hope I get
lucky with a really good fare in my first five minutes of
searching!). Getting lucky is usually just wishful thinking
and the process ends up taking a long time. I first run
the straight round trip RDU-Athens on dates I want to see
what the fares are. Next I play around with the dates to
see if I can find anything else. When I find an acceptable
fare then I look at the itinerary and make sure that there
are no early morning departures(think about waking up 4
hours before a 6am flight!) and no long layovers.
If this were
easy, I would be done, but usually there is something wrong
with the flights(cost, itinerary, airline) and the search
has to continue.
I try searching
with low cost airlines in Europe to see if I can find any
low fares on Discount European
Airlines from another European city to Athens. If I
find something then I'll work on flights from the US to
that city(IMPORTANT: Never buy a discount
ticket that you are going to connect another itinerary to
without having the other half in place. This could be a
very expensive disastrous way to do it if the connecting
flight isn't also inexpensive!).
Last year I found
29 Euro flights from
Milan to Athens so I combined an open jaw USAirways
flight(RDU-Milan and Athens-RDU) with the Easyjet tickets
and ended up paying about $750 per person with a week stay
in Slovenia. Naturally, my first step this year was to try
those same flights. Easyjet had some low fares, but USAirways
fares were way up there! No luck!
I ran a whole
series of searches trying different combinations, but to
no avail. Everything I found was either a direct flight
in the $1400 range or a combination of flights that were
only a $100 or so less. Still too expensive and if you add
the risk of combining tickets(missed flights can be a disaster
since no airline guarantees WHEN they will get you to your
destination, but just that they WILL get you to your destination)
neither options are a bargain.
Back to the drawing
board! This process continued weekly(or whenever I had spare
time) from Jan(after we got back from a Christmas Trip to
Athens) until early April when I finally found some flights.
I was running
through the search system that I outlined above when came
to a US Airways fare that was a little over $1000. I went
to there site and have to say I was pleasantly surprised
with their search engine which turned out to be very efficient.
I started my search with the dates that I wanted and checked
the box that said my dates were flexible. This gave me the
option of moving either the departure or return dates in
increments of 1-3 days. This means that instead of having
to run a new search every time I wanted to change dates,
I could just move up or back a few days a time. Along with
the dates I chose were prices for other dates as well as
other flights on the same date. In this way I could choose
the best itinerary and see what it would cost me.
I'm not sure
how I did it, but I found a low fare in the beginning of
September. I kept backing up and found flights for $960
including tax from August 26-September 24. It was strange
because any other dates around them were all over $1200.
That was a pretty good fare for the dates so I thought,
"hmm... if it's that low from RDU, what can it be from
a major airport?". I ran searches from Washington,
NY and Boston, but nothing was that low. In fact, I searched
for flights from Boston, NY and Washington in September(middle
season- August 26 is technically high season still so the
fares should still be high!) and still didn't find anything
that low! That was encouraging.
When I fly, I
try to get a free ticket either using my credit
card miles or my Frequent Flyer miles. I had enough
Frequent Flyer miles on Delta but but they had these flights
that were code sharing with Continental Airlines. The problem
with that was I wouldn't be able to purchase the same tickets
at a reasonable cost and it would have cost the same as
purchasing 3 tickets if I had to purchase the 2 Delta/Continental
combination tickets(they were something like $1600 per person!).
I think Delta purposely does the codeshare ticketing so
that people can't buy one ticket with miles and match the
other two tickets and pay for them.(These are also the 75,000
mile tickets. If you want to use 100,000 miles then you
can get flights that are all Delta).
As I had enough
miles with my credit card the next step was to go to my
Credit Card company and see if I could find the same flights.
I signed into
my account, did a search and found the flights for the same
price as the USAirways site(plus a $30 ticketing fee and
$140 issuing charge for the "free ticket"). I
booked the 3 tickets, paid for 2 and got the third one with
my CC Milles. The total cost of the tickets was about $715
each, so I ended up well within my parameters(actually a
little bit lower!).
Well, now I hope
you have some ideas on how to go about searching for Your
Great Fare! Just remember, if you are combining any tickets(either
from two or more different airlines that connect or trying
to buy a combination of free flights with flights you have
to pay for) make sure that all pieces are in place and purchase
them together. You don't want to end up with one piece of
the puzzle missing as you'll either end up paying a lot
more than you should(if one of the flights is very expensive)
or worse sending your spouse and/or children off on their
own if you ended up on different flights because you didn't
book the free flights along with the paid flights!