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Booking a Flight With A Down-to-Earth Price

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By Carol Sottili
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009

Finding the cheapest fare requires research. Here's our updated primer on how to snare a decent airfare.

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1. Look at historical data. Several Web sites can indicate whether fares between specific markets are heading up or down. They can also alert you to unusually low fares. For example, Farecast, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2008, tracks fares from nearly 100 domestic cities to domestic and international destinations; plug in your departure and arrival for most major cities at http://www.farecast.com, and the site not only makes a prediction but also indicates how sure it is of that prediction. Another good fare-trending site is http://www.farecompare.com.

2. Check with an aggregator. Booking aggregators -- including http://www.kayak.com, http://www.mobissimo.com, http://www.bookingbuddy.com, http://www.farechase.com, http://www.yapta.com and http://www.cheapflights.com -- scan numerous booking sites and cull the results. Most also display hotels and car rentals.

3. Go to an all-purpose travel site. The big three (http://www.orbitz.com, http://www.expedia.com and http://www.travelocity.com) remain dominant; all display fares from competing airlines, plus you can book your flight, hotel and car in one spot. The sites charge a booking fee of $5 to $20. Vayama (http://www.vayama.com) offers international fares.

4. Sign up for instant alerts. Web sites such as http://www.travelocity.com, http://www.kayak.com, http://www.farecast.com and http://www.orbitz.com offer customizable fare-alert services. Download such features as Southwest Airlines' Ding (http://www.southwest.com), Orbitz's Insider Deals (http://desktop.orbitz.com) and Expedia's Fare Alert (http://www.expediaguides.com/farealert), which provide instant fare notifications.

5. Look at airline and airport sites. Go to airline sites to see whether they can match the lowest fare you've found. You sometimes can get extra frequent-flier miles for booking directly, and you'll avoid service fees.

Also, check flight schedules on the local airport sites, http://www.bwiairport.com and http://www.mwaa.com, to make sure you're not missing a carrier not listed on major booking sites. Southwest, for example, doesn't sell through third-party providers.

Sign up with individual airlines to receive their e-deals, which offer last-minute fares and are published each week (usually midweek), and go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/travel and subscribe to the Travel section's weekly newsletter.

6. Check Priceline and Hotwire. Though http://www.priceline.com andhttp://www.hotwire.com provide regular flight-booking services , both also offer potential money-saving twists. On Priceline, you can bid for a flight, then discover the airline and times after you pay. Hotwire shows you the price upfront, then reveals the carrier and flight times after you've provided your credit card number.

7. Be aware of extra fees. Most airlines now charge fees for checked bags, overweight luggage, meals, unaccompanied minors, well-positioned seats, etc. Those fees can turn a cheap fare into an expensive one. The fee schedules can be found on individual airline sites. Also, pages on several general travel sites, including http://www.kayak.com/airline-feesand http://www.expedia.com/daily/flights/airline-fees.asp, have fee charts that cover multiple airlines. Southwest is one of the few airlines bucking the added-fee trend.

8. Check other budget sites. A number of sites -- including www.cheapoair.com, h, ttp://www.travelzoo.com, http://www.smartertravel.com,http://www.cfares.com, http://www.budgettravel.com, and http://www.independenttraveler.com -- are frequently updated and full of bargains.

Each Wednesday, Travelzoo unveils its Top 20 deals, which include airfare specials, packages and hotel bargains. Look on the site, or sign up to have them e-mailed to you.

9. Consider last-minute specialists or auction sites. Check out the packages at services such as Lastminute.com, which offers late-breaking air-and-hotel combos. Although you might not need the hotel, the package price could very well beat the no-advance-purchase fares being offered elsewhere. Or go to a site such as http://www.skyauction.com, where you can bid for an airline ticket; just remember that once you buy, you're stuck with the ticket.

10. Turn off the computer . . . and contact a travel agent. Many charge fees for booking a ticket, but a good agent will know where to look for cheaper fares and can give you pointers on how to find them. Also, for complicated itineraries, such as an around-the-world ticket, check with an agent who works with consolidators; many consolidators don't deal directly with the public.

Check for an agent's good standing with the American Society of Travel Agents (http://www.travelsense.org).


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