One upside to the faltering economy: lower ticket prices. Below, five
ways to cash in.
1. Use the Web
Reduced fares are just a starting point for online booking sites,
which are now looking out for hidden fees and other expenses, too. Yapta.com alerts travelers when they
can get money back should a ticket price drop after purchasing;
TripAdvisor, which added a booking tool for flights, is the first to
include the cost of checking bags in its estimates. And Travelocity,
Expedia, and Orbitz recently eliminated their booking fees. It also
pays to sign up with sites like airfarewatchdog.com, which
alerts travelers to short-term promotions that can only be booked
directly through the airlines.
2. Watch the New Players
When carriers take on new routes, you can expect a fare war. JetBlue
and Southwest, for example, recently announced flights between
Baltimore and Boston, giving AirTran, which currently dominates that
route, a run for its money. Both V Australia and Delta began service
from the United States to Australia this year, driving down prices for
the existing carriers. And the new Jet America—which launched in
July with $9 promotional fares from Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis, and
Orlando—is adding more fuel to the fire.
3. Become a Follower
Your friends aren’t the only ones Twittering. Airlines including
JetBlue (@JetBlue), Virgin America
United (@UnitedAirlines) are
capitalizing on the trend by tweeting exclusive deals via the Web.
4. Factor in Timing
Knowing the right moment to buy is the holy grail for Web fare
watchers—and each has his own advice. Rick Seaney of farecompare.com, for example,
advises buying on Tuesday around 3 p.m., since domestic sales often
begin late Monday and it takes about a day for other carriers to match
the prices. George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com suggests waiting until the discount carriers start selling: JetBlue
and Southwest only release tickets six and four months out,
respectively, so the major players most likely won’t reduce
fares until then.
5. Go for the Upgrade
Using frequent-flier miles remains the cheapest way to bump up a
class, and there are more opportunities than ever to cash in. Carriers
release premium seats about 24 hours in advance, so call the day
before your departure. And if all else fails, ask at the airport. With
business travel down, you never know what might be available.