Buying Flights, Saving Money

Seth Kugal at the Times, aka the Frugal Traveler, offers a guide to securing the best deals on airfare online. He says it depends on what your needs are, but I think it’s safe to assume “Cheap is All That Matters” is the section most relevant to us:

So the best technique here is to check one of the traditional sites, and then play around with the new guys and see if they can pull an upset. Then, before you book, check the airline’s own website to make sure it’s not even cheaper there. (And don’t forget that Southwest — by its own choice — doesn’t show up on most sites.) And as long as you’ve popped over, it’s almost always a good idea to do the actual booking from the airline’s site: It’s often easier — and rarely harder — to take care of the minutiae (entering your awards number, choosing seats and paying for extra luggage, as well as changing your reservation down the line if necessary).

I never do booking on the airline’s site! And as much as am always convinced there is some great deal out there just beyond my reach that everyone knows about but me, I honestly have just used Orbitz.com since high school and have never done anything else. I’m also not a frequent flyer anywhere for complicated psychological reasons that can be boiled down to, “I don’t want to think about all the free miles I could have gotten already if I would have signed up years ago, so I am going to ignore that this exists as an option.” Same goes for rewards cards. I would go on but the ways I apply this line of thinking to other areas of my life is frankly a little terrifying.

Photo: simon_sees

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19 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

Ah, I think I know that line of thinking that you are referring to. “I want to personalize my phone but there are so many things to personalize and I can’t figure them all out, so I’ll just leave it as is even with a default ringtone and everything.” “I want to hang pictures in my house but which pictures should I hang and do I have enough frames and places to put them, maybe I just won’t hang any.”

beet hummus (#946)

@bgprincipessa Yes I do this line of thinking too, specifically with rewards cards and also the hanging pictures thing. “But what if I move in 5 years? I’ll just have to spackle all those holes. Blank walls are fine.”

readyornot (#816)

Seth Kugel is totally right on this point. Booking through the airline’s site means you can take care of yourself better, and they are often more helpful in announcing delays & cancellations than the other sites.

I have a frequent flyer membership, but I honestly think that the loyalty programs are a sham. They get flyers to chase their terrible services for what are honestly pretty paltry benefits. Basically just getting treated decently, as should be standard in life.

pizza (#599)

@readyornot The real benefits lie with having an airline credit card on top of the loyalty program. With mine I get priority boarding, free checked bags, 2 passes to the airline club (hello free booze, snax, outlets, and wifi), and I’ve been upgraded several times without doing anything. It has a $95/yearly fee, but I’ve booked free flights to Amsterdam & Tokyo/Seoul so it’s worked out for me. The trick is to always pay in full.

readyornot (#816)

@pizza i also receive priority boarding, free checked bags, access to the airline club, occasional upgrades, and TSA precheck with elite status, but as i said, i think the implications of that treatment should be extended to everyone. (if there were no bag fees, boarding early wouldn’t be a big deal.) instead of an airline credit card i use a rewards credit card, which is also a pretty good deal. BUT STILL. it seems a little crazy for such slim rewards.

pizza (#599)

@readyornot To me personally, it is not slim so I suppose we disagree there. I never check bags so priority boarding is actually a big plus for me so I can make sure my bag can fit.

Cup of T (#2,533)

I am so with you on not having a frequent flyer card because of all the miles I’ve already lost. It is perhaps the most privileged form of self-sabotage/faulty logic in which I indulge. BRB *HATING MYSELF*.

Meaghano (#529)

@Cup of T omg ssssh we can’t think about it too much it makes me want to scream

scn231 (#1,705)

Aww guys! If you have good credit, try out a rewards card. For the most part, one reward signup bonus gets you one or two free flights. Much more efficient than flying all over the place to get those miles. They are great! (but cancel after a year so you don’t get charged an annual fee, and don’t mess around with them if there’s any chance you’d carry a balance).

shannowhamo (#845)

@scn231 Aha! That was what was holding me back, I was thinking “why would you do a airline card if they charge you an annual fee unless you do alot of flying?” I’ve also always wondered if cancelling the card hurts your credit much, I’ve heard conflicting info on that.

@shannowhamo It’s my understanding that if you’ve had it less than a year, it doesn’t, but I would double-check that before trying.

@shannowhamo Cancelling it should not, what would affect your rating is losing the available credit. So if you carry balances and all of a sudden, there’s $5000 less available credit, that will affect your available credit ratios.

garli (#4,150)

I’m a big fan of booking through American Express Travel. I pay for everything on that card, use the points and then also they have better deals then I see on any other site.

@garli Have you found their prices to be competitive?

garli (#4,150)

@forget it i quit Yes, I always check kayak and the carrier’s website in case it’s different.

@garli Thanks! For some reason I’ve always avoided them thinking they’d be more expensive. I’ll try them next time.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

I’ve always found the rates directly through the airline’s website to be cheaper. I’ve booked flights directly through Continental, now United and use my miles through United for a free flight to California last year. The price differences I’ve seen have been anywhere from $25 to $75.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Booking flights is the MAIN reason I find vacation planning so stressful. I was freaking out about it last night, actually, for a trip at the end of May.

CheddarCheesus (#4,629)

Regarding “Cheap is All that Matters”: I’ve used the Kayak app (not website) for the past few years to book my European vacations, with awesome results. I’m a very vague planner though, and always start off with the knowledge that I want to go in a rough two-month time frame, spend as little on airfare as possible, and would be fine with a number of countries. The map comes up with flights in my price range, it spells out the dates, and I go from there. I’ve not been bait-and-switched yet.

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