Ads for low airfare are posted across campus and on television, but who really has the cheapest ticket? There are millions of travel agencies online and offline who advertise themselves as having the lowest price.
As an example of online pricing, a trip from Philadelphia to Tokyo offers a wide variety of options.
Cheaptickets.com, which is one of the largest independent systems, according to Consumer Reports magazine, offered three itineraries at $1,175 (United Airlines).
Travelocity.com, which is ranked as one of the largest dot-com agents, provided eight options at $1,160 (United) or more.
Another popular site, airtravel.net, presented more than 10 flight patterns in which the lowest fare was just $508 on Air Canada. This agent is a consolidator, who holds special contracts with airlines and buy tickets in bulk at lower rates.
The Internet is a good tool to search for flight schedules and airfares in the market place, but it has some problems such as unavailability of the listed flights, frequent rate changes and a $10 fee or more for shipping and handling, as well as other fees.
These include an airport tax, fuel charge and other multiple taxes required by the United States and Japanese governments.
For tickets through Continental, which were $730, total price of this ticket went up to $811: $61 government taxes, $10 security charge and $10 shipping and handling.
Consumer Reports magazine suggests that a buyer reads the site’s terms and conditions to find out what special fees are included.
All of the rates found on the Internet were higher than offline travel agencies.
Kintetsu International Express, Inc., provided a $600 ticket on United. On top of that, it added $67 in multiple taxes, but shipping and handling was free.
Hunter Travel in New York offered a $580 ticket on Air Canada as its lowest rate. This excluded taxes and shipping and handling charges.
STA Travel, also known as Student Travel, offered a Tokyo-bound ticket at $702 (carrier: All Nippon Airways), which cost $1,100 without the student discount. Both rates did not include taxes.
“Major differences between ours and regular agencies is that airlines choose to give us special fares because we focus on a certain part of population that they cannot reach with their regular fares,” said James Pakola, a travel advisor at STA Travel. “They can fill up their seats easily by giving us a special fare for students.”
Pakola also said the best way to find the lowest airfare would be shopping around and buying tickets as early as possible. Especially if you plan to travel in May, June, November and December, when travel is heaviest.
Booking flights early gives the traveler more options that are sometimes cheaper, but not always. Some airlines offer last-minute discounts, as well as special Web-fares or E-fares.
Travelocity.com also suggests flying on a weekday when prices are lower. Traveldiscounters.com said that airfares could be 25 percent to 50 percent higher on popular days, especially around the holidays.
An example of Web-only special fares is www.aa.com, which includes “Weekly Focus FAAres.”
“Focus FAAres” are last-minute bargain prices a company uses to attempt to fill up its aircrafts.
For example, it is only $142 from Philadelphia to Boston between November 23 and December 9 on American Airlines. A seven-day advance purchase and Saturday night stay are required, according to the company’s fact sheet.
A comparison of this price to other online ticket sales gave a wide range of options.
Travelocity.com had tickets for the same flight at $499.50. Its lowest fare was $399.50 (United). But a flight from Boston to Philadelphia on November 30 is only $109 (American Airlines).
Airtravel.net’s lowest fare for the Philadelphia-Boston route was $266 (TWA).
Prices or rules change almost everyday in the market worldwide. But as Pakola suggests, the best ways to find low fares are to shop around early and examine market prices. Subscribing to an airlines’ or travel agents’ newsletter has been common among serious fare watchers as well.