updated: Oct. 26, 2004 @ 8:09p
posted: May. 8, 2004 @ 7:25p
Searching for Airfare
SideStep is a downloadable program that detects when you're searching for travel and sends out whatever you enter into a website to the various airlines, searches their sites directly, and then collates the results.
Mobissimo.com is even more powerful than SideStep. It is also a metasearch tool. It goes out to the airlines and the other travel booking sites like Travelocity to get its results. It's web-based rather than a software download. It even searches consolidators (such as onetravel) and international sites (like zuji and opodo). Powerful, but not good for searching over a range of dates or airports.
Get 5% Off from United's Website When their telephone reservation volume is high, they redirect you to the web with an offer of 5% off. The specific URL changes each time, but it just redirects to the link I've provided. You have to log into the site (with your frequent flyer number and password) in order to use it.
Searching Alternate Airports
Alternate airports often have widely differing fares, especially when one is served by a low-cost carrier and the other is not.
In my home town of Washington, DC the price from Dulles to Oakland is generally much cheaper than flying Dulles to San Francisco because of competition from JetBlue. Many flights departing Baltimore are cheaper than those departing Dulles or Reagan National because of competition from Southwest (though Airtran brings down the price on several East Coast routes from the other airports).
Whenever possible, check alternate airports both for departure and arrival: Oakland or San Jose rather than San Francisco... Santa Ana, Burbank, Long Beach, or Ontario instead of Los Angeles... Baltimore rather than Washington's Dulles or Reagan... West Palm Beach or Ft. Lauderale instead of Miami.. just to name a few.
Expedia Used to Have Cool Tools, They Don't Offer Them Anymore
Not directly, anyway. But the direct links still work.
When Should I Buy My Ticket? Or, Fare Goes Down After I Purchase...
There's no perfect way to time a ticket purchase. If you see a great deal, grab it. It might be gone tomorrow.
Generally the lowest fares are available with at least 14 days (30 for international travel sometimes) advance purchase and a Saturday stay... and no more than a 30 day stay. But sometimes the lowest fares are available right up until the day of departure.
A very frequent question at FatWallet goes something like "My trip to XXX is 6 months away, should I buy my ticket now or wait and see if the price drops?"
Several domestic airlines have a little-known policy that may allay the fear of losing out on a better deal. If you buy a ticket and notice that the price drops later for the exact same itinerary on the same dates of travel, you can call and the airline will issue a voucher towards a future ticket purchase.
United, Delta, American, Northwest, and USAirways all offer this for sure. Check with the airline you're considering purchasing from. There's often some fine print, such as Northwest excludes web fares from this, but I've found it to generally work well.
Whenever you purchase a ticket it's a good idea to check whether the fare has dropped even a little as that's a free money towards your next trip.
Where Can I Go Inexpensively From Where I Live?
Yahoo!'s Best Fares (This link defaults to BWI, reset to your own airport)
SmarterLiving Airfare Deals (This link defaults to Washington DC, reset to your own city)
Travelocity's Dream Maps (This link defaults to BWI, reset to your own airport)
Sites to Check for Period Good Deals
Availability Tool (Software Install, Very Powerful)
ITA Software This is the programming and logic behind Orbitz. Very powerful search features. I highly recommend reading their help section.
Where Should I Sit On the Plane?
Seat Expert is similar to SeatGuru, covering several international carriers not listed on Seat Guru.
How Can I Earn the Most Miles for My Trip?
Unofficial Guide to United Airlines Mileage Plus
Searchable Database of Current Mileage Promotions
How Many Miles Will I Earn for My Trip? The "Great Circle Mapper" allows you to enter routes using airport codes and it will tell you how many miles from each airport and display the route on a world map.
Free Frequent Flyer Miles Gary Steiger compiles a great and well-organized resource with the best frequent flyer mileage offers for various activities -- from flight bonuses to the best frequent flyer credit card signup offers.
Flyertalk.com is a huge bulletin board with over 2.5 million posts focused on miles and points.
Miletracker is a great free downloadable program to track all of your miles and points programs. Update 6/6/04: As of 5/28, MileTracker is no longer being updated as a standalone application. As loyalty programs modify their websites, MileTracker will cease to be useful. You can continue to use MileTracker as a part of a new application, DeskPort but many folks have found the software to be glitchy at best. I have started using Yodlee as an alternative. Also consider MileManager which is a pay service. Update 10/26/04: Deskport has become far more stable and continues to be the tool I use to track my miles. Miletracker has also been re-released as a standalone application in partnership with USA Today.
I'd love comments/feedback/additions/modifications! Let 'er rip!