08 May 2008

Independent Travel 101: Cheap Tickets

This is the sixth of a series of entries about independent travel. Note that this is not professional advice: these are simply subjective opinion of the author, who happens to be an independent traveler.

With the prices of gas going up at a steady rate nowadays, it is rather hard to find cheap tickets in order to go places. So, what does the independent traveler do?

Well, there are a number of tricks of the trade that one can master, and muster, in order to find cheap tickets to go places. And I cannot over-emphasize the need to do one's own research. In this day where people don't need to go to a travel agent to buy tickets, one can simply shop around online and see how much a certain trip costs. Of course, for countries that have a rule in which e-tickets are still not available, then the following does not apply.

Anyway, if you have access to the Internet, and no laws prevent the air carriers from selling to you directly over the Internet, then you have the freedom to shop around.

One should check with the websites of the air carriers themselves. Of course, this assumes that one knows what airlines are flying which routes. But then, that is easy to find. One can go to Amadeus.net and find out the available routings given a city pair. Just plug in your origin and destination and you'll see what airlines have direct, non-stop, and connecting flights. Easy as that.

Then, try visiting the websites of those companies and see how much their tickets cost. Be creative in visiting these websites. If they have different versions of the websites per country, try visiting them separately. For example, I needed to book a domestic flight within Peru, flying from Lima to Cuzco and back. If I went to the US version of LAN.com, I could get a quote and buy a ticket. However, I decided to go to the Peruvian version of the website, and although the website was in Spanish, I got a quote that was 50% less than the quote in the US version. Obviously, I bought my ticket using the Peruvian site.

Now why is this discrepancy in ticket prices? Both tickets were economy seats. However, there are different fare classes. The fare class available to the Peruvian site was not available to the US site. Of course, the Peruvian fare class was more restricted, i.e., it is non-refundable, it doesn't earn miles, among other things, but if one wants to save, then this is the way to go.

One can also use websites that act as search engines with regard to plane tickets. One such site is Kayak.com, where all you need is to plug in an origin and a destination, and it will search for all the available fares it can find on the Internet. Once it finds a fare, if you like it, it will provide a link for you to go to the vendor, say, another online travel agent like Orbitz or Travelocity, or to the website of the air carrier themselves. You don't buy the ticket from Kayak, you buy the ticket from the vendors.

There are also a number of online travel agents that are available, such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia. I use Orbitz a lot, compared the other two. I prefer it for its flexibility. Travelocity has way less options than Orbitz, while Expedia has some style issues that I just don't like. Although I have to say that Orbitz has a more expensive booking fee than the other two (I believe, 5.00 USD more than the others).

So, search your flight, and out pops a number of options. In Orbitz at least, you have the option to search for a flight, and choose it leg by leg. Of course, you can choose a return flight as a whole. For example, say you're traveling from New York to Tokyo. You will be presented with a number of options of flight connections going there and going back. You have the option to choose and select both flights together, or separately. I usually select them separately, due to the fact that sometimes, the resulting options once I select them separately give me a lower quote than the original quote if I chose them together. For example, out of curiosity, I was looking for a flight from New York to Marrakesh, returning Casablanca to New York. The options I was given hovered around 1,000 USD. I selected a return leg, and so the screen popped up a new set of outbound legs. And there, I found a flight that only costs me 800 USD, knocking off 200 USD to the original selection.

Aside from the tips mentioned above, one can also travel by means of the low-cost carriers. However, I tend not to travel with these carriers due to the following reasons: They usually cater to the origin-and-destination crowd, and they do not give you options to connect to other carriers or even within their network; they tend to have few if not no partnerships with other airlines, thus, the opportunity of earning miles is restricted to their own system; and sometimes, the adage of "you-get-what-you-pay-for" is true with regard to these low-cost carriers, if I were traveling on a trip in which I really had to get to my destination, then I wouldn't book a ticket on an LCC.

Finally, there are times in which a human travel agent still has access to information that you cannot find in the Internet. So it wouldn't hurt to call someone and ask for flight information.

So there, have fun on your next escapade!

(Gorges, from my Watkins Glen Series)

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