Spending: Stay alert to save on airfares
BY SUSANNAH SNIDER Money Power
Monday, February 06, 2012
Summer’s best airfares will go to vacationers with flexible travel dates, offbeat destinations and the wherewithal to snatch up deals.
Travelers with flexible vacation plans should look for “flash sales” to capture vastly reduced fares. These deals -- usually available only for a few hours or days -- require quick reflexes. To get a head start, follow airfare-alert sites on Twitter or Facebook and sign up for their email notifications. We like airfarewatchdog.com and farecompare.com for up-to-date notices from a collection of carriers. If you swear allegiance to one airline, it makes sense to register for fare-sale notifications through its site.
If you are wedded to a specific time and place to take your vacation this summer, you can still find solid deals; it will just take a bit more work. Search the giant airfare shops, such as Kayak, Orbitz and Travelocity. These sites don’t sell Southwest tickets, so round out your search by heading over to Southwest’s home page. Or check out aggregator site ( tulsaworld.com/bookingbuddy ), which highlights offers from multiple airfare search pages, including Southwest’s.
Not sure when to buy your plane ticket? Track prices before you pull the trigger. Plug your itinerary into Yapta.com or Bing’s Price Predictor ( tulsaworld.com/bingtravel ) to see whether you should buy the ticket or wait until prices plunge. And rethink the notion that Tuesday afternoon is the best time to purchase plane tickets, says George Hobica, of airfarewatchdog.com. “If you keep your eyes open only on Tuesday, you’re going to miss the Friday sneak sale that’s not advertised.”
You don’t have to suffer from buyer’s remorse, either. Yapta will track your flight’s fares even after you book and alert you if the fare drops. Some airlines will issue ticket credits or vouchers for the difference. But be aware that many carriers charge ticket-change fees, which run about $150 for domestic flights and $250 for international flights.
Expect carriers to continue nickel-and-diming you for priority boarding, extra leg room and aisle seats. You can evaluate the benefits of a seat upgrade by visiting seatguru.com. Plug in your flight information to identify the best and worst seats. To add to your baggage woes, several airlines have established weight limits for carry-on luggage. Hawaiian is enforcing a 25-pound limit; Spirit charges for bags over 40 pounds.
And remember, the best deals go to those who don’t jump on the travel bandwagon. “If you want to go to Europe in July and fly on a specific airline, you’re not going to get a good deal,” says Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. According to Trip Advisor’s 2012 Travel Trends Forecast, Americans’ top three international travel destinations are Paris, London and Rome. If you avoid popular vacation spots such as these, you’ll spend less.
(Susannah Snider is a reporter at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. To send her a question or comment, go to tulsaworld.com/kiplingerfeedback. )