Finding Flights, The Old-Fashioned Way

Folks, we’re going to wrap it up today with this last post and hunker down. Logan’s Internet went out a little over an hour ago, and I’m going to leave you with this last post for today.

In our check-in this morning, one of our readers, Sockhopbop, mentioned impulse buying a flight to Dublin for New Year’s for $700, and Lauren, another one of our readers, asked how it was possible to score a deal for an international flight.

Ah, we all want to know how to get good deals on flights, yes? People who are responsible with credit cards can play the airline miles game. And then there are the word-of-mouth deals—I will never forget the $250 roundtrip ticket I found from New York to Madrid in the spring of 2011 after a friend messaged me about it. Deals like that seem nearly impossible to get unless you have some sort of insider information. That’s why if you’re thinking about traveling internationally, you have to go straight to the insiders.

The insiders in this case, are travel agencies. Yes, I’m talking about those brick and mortar places that exist in real life with real life people with tons of knowledge about the destination you want to go to. Travel search engines are great if you’re flying domestic, but if you’re thinking about flying to say, Brazil, you might want to try to find a Brazilian agency that can help you score a better deal than any travel website can.

I went to a travel writers panel two weeks ago at the Housing Works Bookstore Café here in New York City because my friend Jodi Ettenberg was speaking. One of the audience members asked the panelists about how they get travel deals. Visiting a travel agency directly was one of the recommendations a panelist suggested. So how much savings are we talking about? As much as 40 percent, according to a post by Seth Kugel on the Times’s Frugal Traveler blog earlier this year when Kugel looked into booking a trip to Croatia:

“You don’t want to go to Zagreb and come back from Zagreb!” he practically shouted — common knowledge to him, apparently. “You want to go to Zagreb, go down the coast, come back from Dubrovnik. I’ll send you an e-mail in five minutes.”

His fare: $480, taxes included. That’s 40 percent off the cheapest online flight I had found. The catch: I had only an hour to commit. But if I had really been planning the trip, I certainly would have.

That extra bit of insider knowledge about landing in Zagreb and flying out from Dubrovnik is pretty nice. So the next time you’re planning on flying internationally, check out Kayak, Expedia, and your local travel agency. I definitely will—and I’ll report back on any savings I find.

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9 Comments / Post A Comment

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

I recall that story, but I’ve never had a travel agency get me a deal I couldn’t get at least as good, if not better, on my own for a flight and often times hotels, etc. I’ve used them overseas in particular, when language barriers, off the beaten path travel desires and time crunches required it. Again, I find what I save in time I pay for in money.

Last time I used one in Canada I paid MORE for the flight (by about $25) than had I booked independently online. But in that case, I wanted a travel agency to rely on in case of problems (flying in the middle east post Arab spring).

My tips, since I know you are all dying for them!
- For Canadians, google Chris Myden then sign up for his blog alterts, follow him on twitter, like him on facebook – he often finds and shares great deals. Flying Mtl to Mexico City, $350 return, in February thanks to him!
- Again, for Canadians, Red Flag Deals hot deal forum (filter for travel) ocassionally has some good things.
- Sign up for rewards programs and promo emails from airlines – as a “Flying Blue” member, I get reminded when KLM and Air France have sales, and got an amazing deal on a fight to Istanbul last year because KLM’s site has an awesome multi-month search tool that tells you the cheapest travel dates.
- For Ottawans, KLM and Air France have a bus service that takes you from the Ottawa train station to Montreal airport – if you search depart from the Ottawa train station, you can often save a few hundred dollars (yes, you pay in your time, and they also don’t let you check in online if you have the bus portion. Also, any KLM/Air France/Delta rep on the phone or anywhere other that the Montreal airport has no idea how to deal with the ground transfer portion of your ticket, which can be super annoying when you are making changes to an itinerary overseas).
- if you have flexibility, use ITA (google) software to check flights, for different date ranges. Don’t forget open jaw flights! Flights home to Edmonton this Christmas were horrifying (hovering between $800 and $950 return, with the cheaper flights generally requiring connections), so I am now flying Ottawa-Edmonton (direct), Edmonton-Lisbon (3 connections), Lisbon-Montreal (1 connection), and taking the bus from Montreal to Edmonton. Total cost: $1260.
- Again, if you have flexibility, check out charter websites (Sunwing, Air Transat, etc.) for “last minute” deals. I could have gone to Portugal for $450 return in October. Note: this is not good for those of us prone to torture ourselves with “what ifs”.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@swirrlygrrl Agreed, Chris Myden’s site is amazing!

I’ve never had luck with travel agencies, but when planning a trip I just check travel sites compulsively until I find what works for me. For Canadians, if you’re willing to drive to the nearest US city you can save a lot. I’ve found flights from Seattle to Halifax that were significantly cheaper than Vancouver to Halifax – and almost every time I fly for pleasure I fly out of the US.

megsy (#1,565)

@swirrlygrrl There’s a direct Greyhound bus from the station in downtown Ottawa to Montreal airport as well. It is still only about $30 round trip but I have saved decent money by flying out of Montreal versus Ottawa (even domestically), so the bus trip has been justified.
Travelzoo is another decent resource… some weeks it’s just another piece of junk mail in my e-mail box but occasionally there are great deals on flights or hotels.

honey cowl (#1,510)

But what about the time I found a flight to Beijing for literally half the price of what every single travel agent quoted me?

Admittedly this was the only international ticket I’ve ever purchased.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Lauren Well, yes, every scenario is plausible! Which is why the suggestion is to add local travel agencies to your resources when deal-hunting, not replace them with the resources you already use.

LHOOQ (#1,634)

In my experience, the internet is on balance a little cheaper than a travel agent for travel between Western Europe and the US. Being friends with a travel agent, however, would be a game changer, I’m sure.

If you are a student with an ISIC card, occasionally STA can get you a deal good enough to outweigh their commission.

selenana (#673)

I also use travel agents at least as often as internet booking for my international flights. Country-specific agents usually have good deals going (IACE is good for NAmerica-Japan) and I use a different travel agent almost every time I fly home, usually on the same flight. Usually save at least a couple hundred bucks.

novembertea (#2,203)

Be safe and good luck NYC-ers… xo

I’m in the process of planning and booking a round the world trip – going through an agency which I’m pretty sure is going to save $$ as well as infinite stress and misery.

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