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Amy’s Airfare Booking Tips

As a travel agent, booking air is the thing people most often come to me with the ‘so do you have any deals’ question.  And I never do.  My deals come when travel is bundled through my vacation packagers, or through the cruise lines.  And since airlines no longer pay agents any commission, I’m not very motivated to sell air without any other segments of a trip.  I still do book air for friends and family, or at least do the leg work for them and let them know which airline to choose.  And when I’m booking air for my family and myself, I look for two things:  best schedule (for me this means a comfortable departure and arrival time) and then $price$.

So how do I accomplish that?  First, I begin my search with a site called Kayak.  I think Scott has covered the site in a travel tech blog so I won’t go into too much detail — I’ll just tell you that it has a fast and friendly search engine for finding best fares across most airlines.  It also has a cool feature that lets you search a date range if your schedule isn’t fixed.  So say you want to leave on Monday the 5th or Tuesday the 6th, you can view which day gives you the lower fare.

Once there, I plug in my date, and now I can see which of the big airlines (United, US Air, Delta, American, Frontier, etc.) has the best fare for my travel date.  Note:  Kayak will not return results for Southwest, but they include a link to the SW site.  Because I might want to find out if Southwest has a better fare than the biggies,  I also go check out the prices on Southwest.  If you are flying to a destination they serve, its worth a look.  I love Southwest’s price calendar tool (Frontier does this also) because now I can view which fares are the best for an entire month of potential travel.  In this example though let’s say Southwest’s fare wasn’t lower than what I found on Kayak.

Let’s say US Airways has the cheapest fare.  Next I go directly to the US Airways site and perform the search with their booking engine.  Now I can search all the flights US Airways offers on my departure and return dates.  I might see that the lowest fare on departure day is $120, but its for a 6:15 AM flight or a 7:30 PM flight.  I don’t want to leave that early or that late.  So I’ll opt for a slightly higher fare, let’s say $155, to get a more comfortable departure time of 10:45 AM.    On the return, I see that the fares are even lower, at $99 for coach.  If I’m willing to pay an additional $125, bringing that leg to $224, I can even upgrade my return to a seat in first class.  Knowing that I’m returning over dinner time, and that I would like to eat on the plane, I might choose the premium seat.  Delta is another example of an airline that gives you mixed class flexibility.

Before I commit to booking, I always look at the seat availability.  If my family of 4 is traveling together, and only 10 seats spread out all over the plane are free, its not going to work.  I’d want to see at a minimum 4 rows with 2 seats still together.  Flying solo, I’m fine with not getting exactly the seat I want, unless everything left is a middle seat.  Scrunch!

When choosing air alone – meaning not with a vacation package – I always book directly with the airline.  Since I’ve found the schedule, seats, and price I’m happy with, I am now ready to book.

Finally, let’s touch on rewards programs.  My parents are very loyal to Delta.  Even if Delta doesn’t offer the best schedule or price for a given flight, they are going to book with Delta.  Why?  They are in the Delta rewards program and they have the Delta American Express card.  The perks they get for their loyalty include free checked bags, complimentary upgrades to first class, a priority check in line at the ticketing counter, and of course miles earned for free flights. For them, paying an extra $200 per ticket and having a layover is totally worth the benefits they get for their loyalty.  And because they are frequent travelers, with international flights every other year, I totally get it.  If you aren’t a frequent air traveler though, there are better rewards programs out there, which I’ll cover in another blog.

One more note.  Maybe you’ve read that you should book air on Tuesdays.  Many airlines launch fare sales on Monday night, so by Tuesday fares may be discounted .  But here’s the thing, fares can also go up on Tuesdays.  Airlines by law can change their fares once a day.  And a fare is more likely to go up by hundreds of dollars than it is to go down by the same.  If you do choose to use Kayak, it has a tool that predicts if the fare you are looking at will go up or down based on historical trends.

So to sum up my process:

  1. start with Kayak
  2. eyeball fares on days close to my preferred date
  3. also check out Southwest’s fares
  4. choose lowest fare and head to that airline’s site
  5. view the fares and times for departure and return
  6. check seat availability before you book

Questions, comments, feedback?  I’d love to hear from you, Amy@PlanCoolTrips.com

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