by Nancy Dorrans
As a travel agent since 1982, give or take a few years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. I wish I had a dollar, or even a dime, for every time someone said to me, “I didn’t know travel agents still existed,” or asked, “Hasn’t the internet made travel agents obsolete?”
I won’t deny that the internet has changed my job. On one hand it has been a wonderful tool. It educates my clients and is a tremendous resource for me. I couldn’t do my job without it. It can also be a source of frustration… especially when booking airfare!
What about you? Do you wait hoping the rates will change and go down? How much time do you spend searching online for fares? How many sites do you check? Do you book on a Tuesday after midnight? Have you made a mistake and tried to contact the help desk only to end up talking to an agent in Manila?
Here is some insider information and facts about airfares.
Fact: Book early! Most of the major domestic and international airlines let you book your flights 330 days in advance. If you want the best rate on a flight, then book as soon as you know your dates — especially if you are a teacher and you want to travel over vacation weeks!
Fact: There are a limited number of seats available on each plane for the lowest rate. Once those seats are sold, the rates go up. Be flexible and book early. Some days of the week may be cheaper, but the fact is rates are always based on availability.
Fact: All booking engine websites are looking at the same inventory. The information is just presented to you in a different style. If you search on any given site for the cheapest fare, you could get a really great rate, but you might end up having to change planes three times, change airlines, terminals and even airports, as can be the case in New York. Look carefully before you buy, or you may end up needing a taxi ride from JFK to LGA!
A fare that is available today for a trip in December may have an advance purchase requirement of a month or more or less. It may be a fare that requires you to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays and stay over Saturday night.
Fact: Rates, or the “Tariffs,” are set by city pair markets, not by mileage. It can be cheaper for you to travel through Denver to get to San Francisco than to fly just to Denver, but if you buy your roundtrip ticket to San Francisco intending to only use the flights to/from Denver, you’ll be sorry. If you don’t show up for your return flight in San Francisco, the airline will cancel the rest of your reservation!
Fact: In any given market there could be up to 75-100 different fares. When I started working in the travel business there were only three classes of service: F, Y and B, aka. First Class, Coach Class and Super Saver. The rules were clear. (B is the code for Supersaver, which made perfect sense to someone!)
Now there are hundreds of rules, and almost every letter in the alphabet is used as a class of service. B is still one of the codes for discount fares. Since B was taken, J, P and C are used for business class. No wonder you’re confused!
There is plenty of lore out there. The fact is if you want the best price plan ahead. If you wait you’ll probably pay more.
You can use the various search engines to find the best itinerary and rates, but when you find what you want, go to the airline site directly to make the booking, and cut out the middleman. Try it. They won’t charge you a fee to book online, and as long as the seats are available you’ll get the same fare.
One more tip – If you travel often in a certain market (as I do to visit family in Ohio and Tennessee) you can set up a “fare-watcher” account through Travelocity. They will send you an email when a fare drops below a certain rate. The internet can be a handy tool!
Nancy Dorrans is a West Ender and an independent travel agent at Adventure Marketplace.