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  • Finding the Lowest Fare


    How do I know if I'm getting the lowest fare?
    Most reservation sites ask you for your dates of travel and then tell you a price.  The problem is that you don't know if that price is really the lowest fare or not.

    What you really want is a list of all  fares.  From that list, you will be in control because you will know what all the options are.  Each fare will be listed with a set of rules, and you can decide which fare is best for your travel plans.

    To see a list of all fares, visit Travelocity.com.

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    What do you mean by the lowest fare?
    You want to make sure you're getting the best deal for you.  You want to have all the information, so you can make an informed decision.

    Suppose I told you that the "lowest fare" from City A to City B was $199 round trip.  To get this fare, you have to leave on a Saturday, and come back the Monday two days later.  You must book this ticket at least 7 days in advance, and you must travel on an airline called XYZ Air.  Once you book the ticket, no changes are permitted, and it is non-refundable.

    You may say "fine, that's what I want."  In this case, $199 is the lowest fare for you, and you should book this trip.

    On the other hand, consider the following:

  • To leave on Friday and return on Sunday will cost $249.  You'd rather travel on Fri/Sun.  Is the extra $50 worth it?  If so, then $249 is the best deal for you.
  • To travel on your favorite airline, the fare is $219 for Saturday to Monday, and $269 for Friday to Sunday.  You may prefer to travel on your favorite airline, especially if you are a frequent flyer and get benefits as a result (points, priority check-in, lounge access, upgrades, etc.).  In this case, $219 or $269 may the best fare for you.
  • For $798 you can get a fully flexible ticket on your favorite airline, which allows you to travel anytime, make any changes you want with no cost and refund the ticket if it's unused.  For example, you may just want to travel on Friday and come back the same day, in which case $798 is the lowest fare.

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    Can you suggest an online tool to help me find the lowest fare?
    As indicated above, our recommendation is to use the flexible dates feature on Travelocity.com .   Here you enter your origin and destination, but you leave the dates blank.  Travelocity then finds a list of the lowest fares currently offered by various airlines.  You pick the fare/airline you prefer, and Travelocity will help you find the dates on which that fare is available.

    If you still need help, call your travel agent.

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    Tell me a good "trick" for finding low fares.
    Suppose you want to travel from AAA to CCC. The fare listing displays what are called through fares from AAA to CCC, which may allow connections in various cities, as specified in the fare routing (unfortunately it's hard to find routing information online). An alternative is for you to specify the connecting city BBB. The online systems do not generally consider all possible connecting cities. You may find that a fare constructed with an end-on-end combination through an intermediate city of your choosing may be much cheaper than a direct flight, or a flight through a connecting city chosen by an online system.

    To do so, use the Multiple Flights option for booking your trip, and specify separate segments for each leg of your trip, using reasonable times. If an end-on-end combination turns out to be cheaper than the through fare, the online reservation system should automatically price it with the end-on-end combination.

    I have seen this method save hundreds of dollars on numerous occasions.

    Note: The above "trick" is a legal method of fare construction. It is not the same as hidden city routing, in which you really want to travel from AAA to BBB, but by buying a ticket from AAA to CCC with a connection at BBB the fare is cheaper (i.e. you would just get off at BBB and not take the connecting flight to CCC). Hidden city routing is neither approved by the airlines nor endorsed by travelterminal.com.

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    What are consolidator fares?
    Consolidator companies have special deals with some airlines, and sell seats at prices which are often lower than the lowest published fare. 

    Tip:  Read the rules carefully for any consolidator fare.  Usually these tickets have many restrictions.   Often they are nonrefundable and cannot be changed even for a fee.  The tickets may also be "nonendorsable", which means that the airline cannot transfer the value of the ticket to another airline.  This restriction becomes important if your flight is delayed or cancelled, because you may have more difficulty getting your ticket transferred to another airline.

    Tip:  Some consolidator fare tickets do not allow you to earn frequent flyer miles.  Always ask before you buy.

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    When is the best time to use my frequent flyer points?
    Think of the dollar value per point that you're getting.  For example, if you have the choice of buying a seat sale ticket for $500 round trip, or using 25,000 points, you are getting a value of 2 cents per point.

    Suppose on the other hand that at the last minute you need to travel on the same route.  Now the fare is $2500 round trip or 25,000 points.  Using your points in this situation yields you 10 cents per point - a much better deal.

    With similar calculations, the best times to use points turn out to be:

  • when traveling at the last minute, and you would otherwise have to buy a full fare coach ticket
  • for an upgrade to First/Business class, which usually costs much more than a seat sale ticket

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    Two days after I bought a ticket, the airline announced a seat sale for the same dates.
    Some airlines allow you to get either a credit note or a refund for the difference between what you paid and the seat sale fare.  In general, if the seat sale is available on the same flights as those you booked, you may be able to get a credit note or a refund without paying a penalty. If the seat sale is available on different flights (even on the same dates), you may still qualify for a credit note/refund, but a penalty may apply (e.g. $100).

    Check with each airline for their specific policies.  As you can imagine, this policy is usually not advertised by the airlines.

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    What do you think of priceline.com's Name Your Own Price feature?
    Priceline.com allows you to name a price you'd be willing to pay to fly from point A to point B.  Priceline then sees whether a major airline would be willing to sell you a seat for that price.  It's a good alternative for leisure travelers, but remember that you can't specify the airline, you often don't earn frequent flyer miles, the routing and times may not be convenient, the fares are often not upgradeable with frequent flyer upgrade coupons and the tickets are nonrefundable and non-changeable.  You have to weigh these drawbacks against the cost savings.  Always make sure you know the lowest published fare before submitting a priceline.com offer.

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