Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Originally published: July 22, 2004
The big personal finance surprise of this summer is an airline fare war. You’d think ticket prices would be going up. Consumer confidence is high, and people are much less afraid to travel. So travel demand is relatively strong. Plus, fuel costs have gone up this year, and fuel is one of the largest costs for an airline. And many major airlines are under great financial pressure to produce profits, so they certainly don’t want to cut prices.
But in spite of all that, there are some real bargains for travel this summer and well into the fall. It all started with the cheaper, more competitive carriers like ATA, AirTran and Southwest. Then the larger airlines were forced to meet those prices -- some routes less than $100 one-way. According to Travelocity.com, a great Web site to find bargains -- the major carriers dropped prices on more than 48,000 fares in the last two weeks.
One of the most frustrating things about reports of airline fare wars is that it’s doubly difficult to take advantage of them. Basically, if you have the money to fly at these low prices, it’s probably because you have a job -- and will find it difficult to get the time off. And if you have plenty of time to travel because you’re not working, then even the bargain prices could be out of reach.
But the reason for this column is not the news, already in the headlines, that you can find great deals on flights and travel packages. When I started researching behind the headlines to actually find the best deals, I uncovered an online world of travel resources that I’d never seen before -- even though I fly a lot. And I want to share them with you. Even armchair travelers might be tempted by some of these sites and the deals they offer.
Online travel sites
Orbitz is the place I usually start -- and end -- my fare search. It is generally known to have the most powerful search engine, but it doesn’t include Southwest airlines, a real bargain carrier.
Go to Southwest.com to find that company’s low fares, because the airline doesn’t sell tickets except through its own operation.
Once you’re at the Web site, you’ll be amazed when you click on “shortcut” to low fares. But there are some considerations along with these low prices. In Chicago, you fly out of Midway, which might not be convenient for north suburbanites. And you don’t get advance seating.
Expedia and Travelocity are also great sites to start a search. They’re known for their “package deals” that combine hotels, rental cars, and even amusement park admissions along with airfare, in so-called consolidation deals. So if you have free time, but no idea where in the world you’d like to vacation, their home pages filled with deals will start you dreaming.
If you’re very flexible on time, go to Priceline.com, where you can bid on the destination of your choice, and maybe get a real deal.
Cheap Tickets, Hotwire, and TravelZoo are also great Web sites -- less well known, but trying harder to uncover good deals. They search travel deals on the other Web sites. For example, TravelZoo found a $589 package for seven nights in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, including airfare and hotel. (Better check out the hotel!) The deal expires soon.
Hotwire found a weekend package in Ft. Lauderdale: airfare and three nights at a Westin hotel for $287 per person. On CheapTickets I could book a fall travel package for Hong Kong, including airfare and five hotel nights, for only $899. Then again, despite the low fare, that’s a long flight to be locked into a coach seat.
Online beyond bargains
The thought of a cramped coach seat led me to another Web site, called AirBrokers.com, which specializes in international business-class fares. Sure, that’s twice as expensive as coach, but bargains are relative, and deals are available on global flights.
If business class isn’t enough luxury for you, go to FirstClassFlyers.com and learn the secrets of getting upgraded on your next flight -- and moving to a higher status in your frequent-flier program.
As I said, my efforts to research the best deals led me far and wide on my Internet search. If you have a favorite Web site I’ve missed, send me an e-mail and I’ll do a follow up. It might take a week or two, because I’m going on vacation! And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser, and appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.