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Airfares / Air Travel - Useful Tools and Tips

Not the first Travis

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  • Added on: November 16th, 2005
In this thread, we share the most useful tips, tools and tricks regarding shopping for Airfares and Air Travel in general. The hope is that rather than scattering this information in various threads all over BnA, we’ll consolidate all our learning in one place so everyone can benefit.


Each post will be more helpful if it:

1. Includes a link to a website that you’ve found useful WITH A SHORT EXPLANATION of why/how you find it helpful.

2. Includes a tip or trick you’ve used before that helped you find a cheaper fare, better routing, have a more pleasant experience (or whatever).

3. Confirms or discounts one of the previous recommendations based on your experience.


(False link alert!)

"If you live in the U.S. and you’re flexible about destinations and can travel on short notice, I’ve had success with They have a feature where you register and every week they send you e-mail alerts for cheap flights to various destinations that depart from your city."

"In the US, you can often find better fares by traveling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays rather than other days of the week."


"Never, ever fly TransMongolian Airways. The time I did the flight was delayed two hours, we hit wicked turbulence and the flight attendants smelled awful."

You get the idea….

The hope is to generate a bank of solid links and tips that are permanently useful. And if you happen upon good info posted in a different thread, copy and paste it here.

Ready. Set. Go.


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All that and a bag of Doritos
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Joined: April 23rd, 2005

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  • Added on: November 16th, 2005
TOOLS: Seat Guru maps out the various seats in all the different planes, helping you to find the best one on your flight and stay away from the worst.

(btw, many rules!)

Mr. Chris D

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Joined: October 18th, 2004

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  • Added on: November 17th, 2005
Tool: Sidestep is great for searching multiple travel sites with just a few clicks. The only major airline it doesn't search is SW. Works for international flights as well.

Tip: Sometimes you can get the fare a bit cheaper if you find out what site it's from, and go directly to that site.

Example: Sidestep turns up a fare from AA for $250.

Jump over to the AA site, and you may be able to get it for $225
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...we won't get fooled again.

Insert Stereotype Here

Capt Steve

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Joined: May 25th, 2004

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  • Added on: November 21st, 2005
Some tricks I've learned:

To get the cheapest airfare: Look early and often, and check a range of dates. Get a feel for where the prices bottom out. One way to do this is to check dates waaaay in the future (as in five months or so), and in the off-season for the location, just for reference. Mid-week is often cheapest (tues thru thurs) - but it's not an exact science.

Sometimes fares take a big drop a week or so before the flight date because the airline is trying to fill a flight that is undersold. This is a big gamble, but can work, especially from a very large city with lots of flights to where you are going. An option, too, if you're trip plans are flexible. This worked for me last Christmas from London to DC. After watching fares hover around $600 to $800 fares for six weeks, they dropped on Dec 19th -- so I bought my Dec 23rd ticket for just $449.

Also, check with a good travel agent in addition to the web. There are stories of the cheapest fares being held for agents. Not sure of the truthfulness of this, but it happened to me on a trip from Amsterdam to Australia. After checking the web for weeks, I went to an agent and got essentially the same ticket for about 15% less. Sold.

A more concrete, tangible tip: check out Airfare Watchdog - they put out a newsletter of some amazing deals that come up from various cities. Mostly about travel in the US, though.

I relate buying air tickets to gambling in Vegas -- the outcomes are about equally uncertain. Good luck!


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Joined: February 18th, 2002

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  • Added on: November 21st, 2005
Attention, those trying international travel on a free ticket: I have an excellent trick for using mileage.

Invariably, especially on international flights, advance availability is virtually non-existent. I figured the following out ten years ago, and since then have scored my "impossible" international flight 7 straight times.

Once you know where you want to go, call the airline. Ask for availability, say, LA-Auckland, on the date you want. It will probably not be available. Don't panic. Ask when the next available flight is. "November 21, 2009?" Fine. Take it, so long as it is the same flight.

Then, show up at the airport three hours early on the day you WANT to travel and ask to be confirmed. Due to over booking and cancellations, and the size of the aircraft, there almost ALWAYS seats available. I have had to wait until an hour before departure twice, but was immediately confirmed the other times (once to first class!).

Remember, your ticket is a LIABILITY to the airline, and they will want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. And yes, this really works. I'll take a Bow in advance.


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Joined: July 27th, 2005

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  • Added on: November 21st, 2005
I like Travelzoo. Sign up for their weekly email blast--every Wedenesday they send their 'top 20' of very decent prices on flights and hotels. Last year I snagged three round trips from O'Hare to Dublin for a real pittance.

The key to Travelzoo is to pounce on the best deal, rather than having your heart set on a particular destination. If you're more flexible on where (rather than when) you want to go, there are some great deals.
A life well lived must accept some risk.


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  • Added on: November 22nd, 2005
I'd say one of the best kept secrets to a more pleasant flying experience, while also one of the best kept secrets to earning more FF miles per flight (more FREE flights!!), is the un-published "challenge" that one can do to snag elite status on American Airlines & it's OneWorld partners. One year, I challenged my way to Gold. Then, I challenged my way to Platinum. So very worth it: pass up the lines at the ticket counters & at security, snag the better seats in advance, priority on standby, access to the airline's VIP lounges at airports (showers,food, booze, wireless, etc.), bonus miles on flights. Example: On a $500, 13-thousand-mile trip to Japan snagged me twenty-six thousand miles--more than enough for a free trip across the US ($500 bucks for a trip to Japan and a trip across the US is a very good deal) In the "Frequent Flier" thread in the Chit-Chat discussion, I posted this info. on how to do it. NO, I don't work for the's just something that has been a huge God-send to me, that--for the savvy BnAer who wants to milk his/her air travel for all he/she can get out of it, and enjoy from it, and save $$ on it, it's worth the homework:

It's one of those things with an explanation that SEEMS a lot more complicated than it is. Bear with's really a LOT easier than it sounds at first. And, once you've done it, and done your homework to get it, you'll be sooooo very glad you did, and swear you'll never go back. The thing about elite status on any airline is that it always seems it's harder to GET initially than to KEEP once you've got it. It could be as simple as looking at one international trip you've got coming up, and if it's on American or one of American's partners, signing up for a challenge to get "points" for that trip...and a few days after you've come back--you'll be at either Gold or Platinum on AA, and will be SOOO glad you did when you're next journey comes around.
It is a completely UNPUBLISHED thing that American Airlines won't find it advertised or discussed anywhere on American's website. That also means that you can call three American Airlines AAdvantage Customer Service agents and get three different explanations of how it works, as they're a little unclear on their own rules sometimes.
You can "challenge" your way to either their Gold or Platinum Elite Levels: Gold normally requires you fly BIS (butt in seat) 25k in a year, Plat normally requires that you fly 50k in a year. However, you can challenge your way to Gold by earning 5k elite qualifying points within a 90 day period. Or, you can challenge your way to Platinum by earning 10k elite-qualifying points within a 90 day period. What are those elite qualifying points? You earn so many qualifying points per mile based on the type of fare you have. Don't just think of the class or service you're in (like First, Business, or Coach) but the type of first, business (or--more to the average BnA traveler---) coach fare you've paid for (not upgraded to, or used an AWARD ticket on, but PAID for). Each fare has a "booking class" or booking code, that's one letter. You can usually see it on the fare rules for whatever fare you're looking at. Here are a few examples from the fares that American and some of their partners use:
First Class A, F, P 1.50
Business Class D, I, J 1.50
Full Fare Economy Class B, Y 1.50
(Now, onto the stuff that most BnAers REALLY want to see...)
Discount Economy Class H, K, M, L, W, V 1.00
Deep Discount Economy Class G, Q**, N, O**, S 0.50
[** Tickets between North America and Europe, India, Asia and Latin America booked in O and Transatlantic tickets booked in Q are not eligible. Excludes Internet fares noted as non-mileage earning. ]

I've GOT to point out that many times, the difference between discount and deep discount isn't always that huge, and sometimes it's worth slapping down a few extra bucks for the extra points it earns.

So, let's say you've snagged a really cheap "S" fare from Los Angeles to London & back. That's flying 10,092 miles. You'll earn .5 points per mile flown, so you'll earn at least 5,000 points...that trip alone would qualify you for Gold status! Or, you realize that for another $100, you could snag an H fare instead, so you do, and...shazam...that one trip earns you Platinum status.

Or, maybe you live in L.A. and you're taking a couple of trips to the East Coast on a couple of good G fares, and you decide to thrown in a connection or two instead of going non-stop, to earn as many points as you can on those trips, and shazam, you're Gold status. (flying thru Seattle on the way to New York from L.A. earns a lot more miles--and thus a lot more points---than an L.A./NYC non-stop)

Or, maybe you're in L.A. and you're taking a couple of trips to the East Coast on a couple of cheap H fares, and you throw in a connection or two--maybe even one that seems kind of' outta' the way, but for the extra miles it's worth it--and, shazam, you're Platinum status.

Or, maybe you're in L.A., and you book a trip to be on the East Coast for two months, with a trip or two back to L.A. in could be Gold or Plat depending on the fare you buy.

Here’s a slightly more complicated example, for the kind of long hauls that some BnAers do: Let's say you've snagged a really cheap W fare from LAX to London on American, then a cheap S fare on British Airways onward to Johannesburg. You'll snag one point per mile on the trip to London, but only half a point per mile going from London to South Africa and back. So, you'd definitely make Gold status...BUT, you'd only be a few thousand points shy of Platinum: So, within your 90 days, you should do another short hop or two, at home or at your destination to finish off those points (maybe a trip home for Christmas, or a British Airways flight to somewhere in Europe & back before returning to L.A., who knows...).

Once you've started, you only have 90 days to do all the flying you're going to use to count for your challenge: So, you have to carefully time when you start your challenge with when you're flying. You can start a challenge at either the beginning of a month, or halfway thru a month. So, if you're taking that long haul to Auckland in late February, you don't want to begin your challenge now in mid-November, because your 90 days will be over by then. But, if you're in San Diego and flying to Frankfurt in late February, and from L.A. up to Seattle for a weekend in early Marcy, you may want to time your challenge to include that Seattle trip, if those extra thousand points or so would be needed.

The benefits from the Gold and Platinum levels are really worth it to the frequent traveler---you'll get those shorter lines at the ticket counters & at security, you'll get to pick better seats (including exit rows!) in advance...and you'll earn bonus miles for each flight you take once you've made the status. That adds up financially, since every flight you take is earning your way at a faster rate to your next "free" ticket. For example, at Platinum status, I get a 100% bonus for each flight I take. Throw in the occasional bonus miles promotions that airlines do and that really adds up: I'm doing a $300 trip to Ireland soon, that will snag me 25k (12k for the miles I fly, 12K for that 100% bonus, and 1k for booking in online)...that's a free trip in the U.S. At Platinum status, you also get access to the OneWorld alliance airport lounges internationally (and American's clubs domestically) on the day you fly...that's a God-send when you're flight's delayed and you need to chill out, take a shower, grab some "free" drinks/food, etc. I could go on, but I think I've dumped enough info. into one post for now.

I should stop and let that digest, and then check back. I know it sounds complicated, but it's not as hard as it seems...VERY do-able for anyone who LOVES travel and the perks are SO very worth it. (Maybe in another post I'll elaborate on the perks...)
Go for it!!!!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. ---St. Augustine


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Joined: August 20th, 2003
Location: Edmonton, Canada

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  • Added on: November 22nd, 2005
The single most useful airfare search tool I have found is ITA Software.

It doesn't sell any tickets, but checks the published fares for more airlines than any other I've used, even quite a number of discount airlines that you might not have heard of - though it does seem to miss some of the bigger names in discount flights. And, most conveniently, it'll spit out the total fare with taxes in any currency, just by giving it the airport code for your home city. It also has monthlong searches.

You do have to register an account in order to use it, but it's free, and they've never sent me any advertising mail, so that seems to be just a minor inconvenience.


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Mod Squad
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Joined: January 1st, 2001

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  • Added on: December 4th, 2005
Wanna know more about the current state of the airlines than anyone on your block? Then bookmark and read this.

Stephen Mattison

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Knows What a Schengen Visa Is
Posts: 396
Joined: September 5th, 2005

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  • Added on: December 6th, 2005
Hmmm I really like those B&M travel places (STA Travel, Council Travel, etc.) They seem to come up with really great prices. I mean really good. Like $700 from Seattle to Santiago was pretty good. Talk to them, you might be able to find a better deal.

Tracy Ann

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Gotta love the GB
Posts: 1411
Joined: February 27th, 2005

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  • Added on: December 16th, 2005
Found a new cheap airfare site for the students among us -

Pulled the same price on a couple of flights that I pulled with MAJOR searching elsewhere when I actually booked them (I already have a ticket and/or took the trip, just search the same trip out of curiosity). So, if nothing else, it's good one-stop shopping.
"Life is a runaway train you can't wait to jump on..." -Sugarland


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Holds PhD in Packing
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Joined: May 19th, 2004

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  • Added on: December 18th, 2005
Out of all the extensive research on the internet for tickets I've done, I usually find the cheapest ticket through a travel agent. They still get great deals from consolidators and a good travel agent can usually beat an internet price. They must be doing something right, because, hey, they're still in business despite the internet.

For RTW travel, its different, and I'm going on a hunch here, but flying EAST-WEST round-the-world or vice-versa can be done a lot cheaper on the internet than NORTH-SOUTH. There seems to be a proliferation of low-cost internet-base airlines such as Ryan Air, easyJet, etc in Europe, Air Asia in SE Asia, new airlines such as Deccan and Jet in India, and some of the Mid East Airlines have cheap on-line fares. I haven't had the same luck on-line going from North to South America, and I remember I didn't have luck in Africa either.

Always check a good travel agent before you book. The Practical Nomad has tons of good info on how travel agents get cheap tickets here:

Airline Ticket Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ

Scootin' Round the World:


Armchair Traveler
Posts: 30
Joined: October 15th, 2005

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  • Added on: December 19th, 2005
Have to agree with Scoots about good travel agents. Flightcentre may be big, but they will beat any internet quote that you give them (sometimes only by a couple of dollars) but gives you the security of booking with a worldwide and reputable centre (just in case anything goes awry). We did a 'price beat' with them this week and got return tickets from Sydney to Dublin, with stopovers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city for only $1117 AUD ($1418 incl taxes).Flightcentre


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Armchair Traveler
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Joined: January 30th, 2003

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  • Added on: December 24th, 2005
Whats the deal with one-way tickets being more expensive than RT? I suppose I haven't done extensive research, but I'm planning a trip to Spain and I want to buy a one way ticket b/c I don't know when, or from what country even I'll be coming home. Is there a penalty for buying a RT ticket and then not coming home on the return flight? Whats the best way to go about this?


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Mod Squad
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Joined: January 1st, 2001

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  • Added on: December 24th, 2005
Airlines charge more for one way tickets because they can.

I have occasionally seen cheap O/W's to LHR on VA thru Sky Auction.


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