Because of the emphasis on price competition, consumers may choose from a wide variety of air fares. It is easy to compare fares and schedules on the Web, using airline web sites or third-party reservation services. You can also contact a travel agent, another ticket outlet, or the airlines serving the places you want to travel to. (Some airlines and other outlets charge a fee for tickets purchased by means other than the Web. On the other hand, a few airlines may charge a fee for tickets that are purchased via the Web.) You can also be alert to newspaper and radio ads, where airlines advertise many of the discounts available in your city. Finally, be alert to new companies serving the market. They may offer lower fares or different services than older established airlines. Here are some tips to help you decide among air fares:
* Be flexible in your travel plans in order to get the lowest fare. The best deals may be limited to travel on certain days of the week (particularly midweek or Saturday) or certain hours of the day, early-morning flights or overnight “red eyes”). When searching flights and fares on the Web you can usually specify whether your dates are flexible, and in the search results the fares are generally listed from lowest to highest. If you are shopping by phone or in person, after you get a fare quote ask the reservations agent if you could save even more by leaving a day earlier or later, or by taking a different flight on the same day.
* Plan as far ahead as you can. Some airlines set aside only a few seats on each flight at the lower rates. The real bargains often sell out very quickly. On the other hand, air carriers sometimes make more discount seats available later. If you had decided against a trip because the price you wanted was not available when you first inquired, try again, especially just before the advance-purchase deadline. Flights for holiday periods may sell out months ahead of time, although in many cases you can find a seat if you elect to travel on the holiday itself, e.g. Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day.
* Some airlines may have discounts that others don’t offer. In a large metropolitan area, the fare could depend on which airport you use. Also, a connection (change of planes) or a one-stop flight is sometimes cheaper than a nonstop.
* Be aware that many airlines charge extra for checked baggage, advance seat assignments, meals, or other services. Airlines include information on these fees on their web sites.
* If you have a connection involving two airlines, ask whether your bags will be transferred. Ask whether your ticket will be good on another carrier at no extra charge if your flight is canceled or experiences a lengthy delay, and whether the first airline will pay for meals or a hotel room during the wait.
* Most discount fares are non-refundable; if you buy one of these fares and you later cancel your trip, you will not get your money back. In many cases you can apply your ticket to another trip in the future, but there may be a steep fee. Many fares also have a penalty for changing flights or dates even if you don’t want a refund. You may also have to pay any difference in air fares if your fare-type is not available on the new flight.
* After you buy your ticket, call the airline or travel agent once or twice before departure to check the fare. Fares change all the time, and if the fare you paid goes down before you fly, some airlines will refund the difference (or give you a transportation credit for that amount). But you have to ask.
Differences in air fares can be substantial. Careful comparison shopping among airlines does take time, but it can lead to real savings.