As airlines tack on more fees, saving money on airline tickets may appear to be a mere wish. But even with all the added costs of flying, there are still deals to be had; you just need to know where to look and when to travel. Researching before you book your next vacation or plane ticket can save you the added headache — and the added costs — of your next flight.
Travel During the Shoulder Season
Airfares are generally lower during the shoulder season — the period of time between high and low season, says Nicole Hockin, author of TravelSmartBlog.com.
Any season can be a shoulder season, depending on your destination. Europe’s high season lasts from May through September. But head to London in October and you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, comfortable temperatures and cheaper airline ticket prices. The Caribbean and Mexico have great weather in late April and May, but prices for flights drop during these months as they fall after spring break and before summer vacation.
But remember to consider these caveats of traveling during the off-season: Hotels often do their renovating when there are fewer crowds, which could mean staying in a place with a lobby under construction or an obstructed view from your window. Still, the rates will drop accordingly, often between 10 percent and 20 percent. Some hotels will offer a free room upgrade during this time as well. Museums may limit their hours or even close on certain days during the nonpeak season. Make sure to check that the attractions you want to visit will be open and available before booking an airline ticket.
Make the Most of Your Days
Airlines typically release new airfare sales midweek, says Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com, an airfare search engine. Tuesdays and Wednesdays in particular tend to be the peak times to find cheap airline tickets.
While the sales often target the coming weekend and the following weekend, they are not limited to these, Chang says. To save yourself some legwork, scour travel websites and sign up for e-newsletters from travel sites that list the best deals for the week.
When booking a flight, arrange your schedule to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, if possible. These days are generally the cheapest times to travel, Chang says. As an added bonus for Saturday travelers, airports tend to be less crowded on the weekend, which can reduce stress levels for you and your family as you move through security and head to your gate.
Research the Fees
If you’ll need to check one bag (or more) on the flight, find out how much you’ll be charged before purchasing the fare. Most airlines and travel sites offer this information online. To compare rates side by side, visit Airfarewatchdog.com’s baggage chart, which lists baggage rates for different U.S. airlines, including fees for overweight and oversize bags.
Airline policies for checked baggage vary greatly, depending on the flight route and status, Chang says. For domestic flights, average airline fees range between $15 and $50 per checked bag; rates for international flights fluctuate more, depending on the airline and destination. To avoid reading through the fine print, Fly.com offers a baggage icon. When searching a flight, click on the baggage icon to check luggage fees before booking a ticket. The information displayed is relevant to the airline and the flight you’re taking, Chang says. For example, if you search for a fare from New York to India you’ll see fees related to that specific flight.
Plan to bring a pet, ask for extra legroom or eat a meal on the flight? Check out FareCompare.com’s domestic airline fee chart, which lists these fees and others charged by U.S. airlines. However, it’s a good idea to double-check fees on the official airline website as well, in case policies have recently changed.
Stretch Your Travel Times
If your departure and return dates are flexible, use airfare search engines to play around with various dates and land a cheap airline ticket, says Susanna Zaraysky, author of “Travel Happy, Budget Low.” These search engines scour the Internet for airline fares, covering hundreds of travel sites in a matter of seconds and saving you the time of clicking through each airline site on your own. Sites such as Kayak.com will show you the fares for each day of a calendar month to help you spot the lowest price.
While some sites let you book your ticket through them, you may get extra perks by purchasing directly from the airline website, Zaraysky says. You’ll often receive bonus travel miles for booking through an airline site. You’ll also be eligible for refund options and other airline programs.
If you know your departing city, but are flexible as far as final destination, head to Airfarewatchdog.com. The site will send you alerts regarding deals on different destinations, Hockin says. She also recommends following your favorite airlines on Twitter. By tracking their tweets, you could snag a deal on a cheap plane ticket. Some airlines regularly tweet travel deals sales known as “Twares,” which are discounts on airfares offered to the company’s followers on Twitter.
When it comes to booking your ticket, bing.com’s flight search offers a price prediction function that will tell you whether fares are rising, steady or dropping, with a confidence measure. For instance: Fares rising or steady, 80 percent confidence.
Follow Your Flight
Most U.S. airlines have guaranteed airfare policies that enable you to claim a refund for the difference if the price of your flight becomes available for less after you book it, says Jeff Pecor, communications director at Yapta.com, an airfare tracking service. “Not many people know the policy even exists — nor do they bother to check the price of their ticket after purchasing it.”
After booking your ticket through an airline, you can enter your flight information at Yapta. The website will track the airfare and alert you via email if you’re eligible for a refund from the airline. Refunds typically come in the form of a travel voucher, which can be used to purchase more tickets through the same airline within the following 12 months.
According to Pecor, customers who book at least 60 days in advance of their flight become eligible for an airline refund about 11 percent of the time. A family of four can save quite a few dollars by going this route.
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If you’ve never heard of pygmy slow lorises, here’s all you need to know: they’re adorable. At least that goes for the big-eyed twin babies recently born at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas.
The baby lorises were born in mid-June, the second time twins have been born to the same parents at the education center and aquarium. “Mother and babies are in the first exhibit in the rainforest entry,” spokesman Jon Randolph says. Check out photos of the furry twin lorises here.
The tree-loving nocturnal creatures resemble little monkeys but are actually part of a more primitive species known as prosimians. They dwell in forests of Laos, Vietnam and China and have been listed as a vulnerable species by a United Nations conservation group, according to the gardens.
The babies and their mom, Luyen, are inside the 10-story Rainforests of the World pyramid that reopened in May after an extensive $25-million redesign. The pyramid had been damaged by Hurricane Ike, which hit the Galveston area in 2008.
Luxury getaway: Craig Scott, managing director of the Adolphus, said using online hotel discounts creates new customers.
In the first two weeks since the launch of Groupon Getaways, luxury Dallas hotels have taken advantage of the travel deals site looking to fill what they call a “need period.”
“We felt it was a really great opportunity to get our name out there to attract people locally and otherwise, and to bring in business for our need period during the summer,” said Valerie Vela, marketing manager for The Stoneleigh Hotel Spa in Uptown.
The Stoneleigh was featured in the first round of Groupon Getaways, which rolled out July 12. The Chicago-based local deals site joined with Expedia …
Steven covers retail, hospitality, marketing and public relations.
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Southern California skiers and Aspen-lovers take note: American Eagle will begin daily nonstop flights between Los Angeles and the Colorado ski resort town in mid-December. And, in case you’re already planning a ski vacation, tickets go on sale Monday.
The regional carrier for American Airlines will operate one flight each way starting Dec. 15 between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), according to an airline news release. The seasonal service will continue through April 2. The airline also will begin flying between Aspen and Dallas/Fort Worth.
The outbound flight will leave L.A. at 9 a.m. and arrive in Aspen at noon. The return flight leaves Aspen at 6:10 p.m. and arrives at 7:35 p.m. (Note: Flight times reflect a one-hour time difference; Aspen operates on MDT.) These flights are set to resume June 14 through Aug. 20, 2012.
JetBlue has rolled out a new airline pass that allows three months of unlimited flying to selected cities in two markets: Long Beach and Boston. The new BluePass is aimed at business travelers but might appeal to frequent fliers too.
Here’s how it works: Pass-holders pay a flat fee and get a seat (provided one is available) to certain cities in as little as 90 minutes before takeoff. Flight changes or cancellations are free but you get dinged $100 if you’re a no-show twice in seven days. And you have to be a TrueBlue loyalty club member too.
The Long Beach Select pass costs $1,299 and includes flights between Long Beach Airport (LGB) and San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Chicago and Austin, Texas. There also are two passes available for travelers from Boston priced from $1,499 to $1,999. The pass is good for travel from Aug. 22 through Nov. 22 with no blackout dates.
How many flights does it take to break even? Roughly two a month — and that’s calculated using last-minute flexible airfares, not the lowest fares, says Dennis Corrigan, vice president of sales and revenue management. The airline phased out last year’s All You Can Jet Pass that was cheaper and good for a month of travel to all destinations.
Passes will be on sale through Aug. 31, but might sell out before then.
Contact: JetBlue’s BluePass, (800) 538-2583.