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Finding good airfares / travel hacking
Old 07-24-2015, 10:18 AM   #1
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Finding good airfares / travel hacking

Hi --

Help! Teach me, please: I need to be pointed in the right direction for savvy travel. I know there are travel hackers and really experienced travelers on this forum.

I haven't traveled for four years due to eldercare obligations, and everything I knew about finding good airfares, especially to Europe, has changed!

No elite status now . But I have about a quarter million miles each in OneWorld and in Star-Alliance (and 100K Avios) which I might use for this trip. Or not if I can't find Saver awards by booking so late. Economy class is fine. I'll use my points for tons of travel on 2016 and 2017.

In early September I want to go to the UK (preferably north: Glasgow, Edinburgh, or even Manchester) from Texas (AUS, SAT preferred) and about six weeks later return from Barcelona. I might use Avios to move from UK to southern France or Portugal or Spain.

So ....

I searched Vayama and found some good one-way fares on American/oneworld metal. Ditto for other OTA sites. On the AA site, however, the fares are twice as high.

Does AA do fare matching? I prefer booking directly with airlines, feeling that airlines have my back better if something goes wrong.

What strategies do you all use to get good value/deals on airfares (or at least feel like the tickets you've bought aren't horribly bad. )

Second, there are zillions of blogs about travel hacking, etc as well as forums like FlyerTalk, which gets into the Boglehead-type weeds pretty quickly. Can anyone suggest blogs or websites that I can use to educate myself on buying good fares and on using my award points intelligently?

Thanks!
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Old 07-24-2015, 10:41 AM   #2
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What strategies do you all use to get good value/deals on airfares (or at least feel like the tickets you've bought aren't horribly bad. )
There aren't really any good deals like there used to be IMO. Last minute deals and things like that are gone as airlines have cut back on flights.

I will say that generally I shop mid-week for fares and that seems to help a little bit. I use Hipmunk usually, but always check Southwest as well.

While I have Silver status with United, I have miles scattered across three other airlines based on finding deals. DW and I opened a Discover Travel Rewards card that allows us to accrue points to spend on travel related charges (airfare, hotels, etc.). That said, we usually use the points towards Amazon purchases (at the same ratio) nowadays, and have found that far more valuable than accruing miles via credit card on a single airline.

While I will try to fly United to retain/upgrade mileage status, I don't go out of my way or pay extra to do so. In years of Silver/Gold status, I've not found the perks tremendous and don't fly enough to get higher.

Let me also add that I'm not retired, so I don't have the immense flexibility to travel whenever I want. That may open up some options that I don't have!
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Old 07-24-2015, 11:01 AM   #3
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I use Kayak.com for my flight searches. Their explorer feature is pretty cool. Just google kayak explorer.

Be willing to look far and wide for alternative departure points. Just got back from a trip to Italy and cut my airfare bill in half by driving 8 hours to an airport in Canada. There were 5 of us and the airfare went from $8900 to $4500. Cost me $100 in gas and 2 nights hotel (used points for these), but that was a super savings. Hope to pull that off again next year.
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Old 07-24-2015, 11:26 AM   #4
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I use Kayak.com for my flight searches. Their explorer feature is pretty cool. Just google kayak explorer.

Be willing to look far and wide for alternative departure points. Just got back from a trip to Italy and cut my airfare bill in half by driving 8 hours to an airport in Canada. There were 5 of us and the airfare went from $8900 to $4500. Cost me $100 in gas and 2 nights hotel (used points for these), but that was a super savings. Hope to pull that off again next year.

Thanks!

Yes, I'm looking at DFW, IAH, ORD and PHL for alternate departures (nothing is cheap from AUS or SAT).

Did you book directly with the airlines (did they have comparable fares to the OTAs?) or did you book through an OTA like Vayama?
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Old 07-24-2015, 11:32 AM   #5
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Thanks!

Did you book directly with the airlines (did they have comparable fares to the OTAs?) or did you book through an OTA like Vayama?
In this case I booked through travelocity.com. Been using them for years with no issues, so I guess it was force of habit. Plus the account already had all my traveler information; hence, I didn't have to spend time putting that in to a new website.
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Old 07-24-2015, 12:47 PM   #6
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Try ITA software to check for flights, I've found them useful in the past and the interface is easy to use. I haven't tried them for international flights so you'd have to see what they offer there.
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Old 07-24-2015, 01:11 PM   #7
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I used flights.google.com to find the flights for the vacation I'm currently on. But when looking to book I was also checking kayak.com.

Flights.google.com found a british air ticketed flight that was made up of codeshare flights run by American and USAIR. It was cheaper than I could find on either kayak, USAIR or American. Like your proposed trip - it was open jaw (in one airport, out another).

My typical pattern when shopping airfare is to start early (6 months or more before I want to travel. Check multiple times a week - but always check on Tuesday afternoon since that's when airfare sales get loaded in. If you have the flexibility "what-if" different departure and arrival dates as well as different airports. I'm flying home from Barcelona because that saved me a few hundred dollars per ticket (and we're a family of 4 so that added up.) Once you have a good idea of nominal prices - POUNCE if you see it dip... Don't hesitate. I scooped up business class tickets for just slightly higher than the nominal coach tickets... the fare was gone a few hours later.
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Old 07-24-2015, 01:33 PM   #8
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What rodi said. I'll also add to look at other departure cities around you. I saw cheap (sub $1000) tickets to Europe in the summer out of Vancouver BC, where from Seattle tickets were going for around $1300.
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Old 07-24-2015, 01:49 PM   #9
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Unless you want to accrue even more miles, you might as well try to use up some of your miles now.

If you haven't flown in 4 years, you'll find that your miles have been devalued because it now takes more of them to get awards, especially saver awards.
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Old 07-24-2015, 02:17 PM   #10
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The way pricing works lately it seems there are only a few things you can do these days:
  • Choose the right time to book - this varies, in general earlier = better
  • Choose the right time to fly - easy to see in any on-line booking tool what best days are (avoid business schedule basically and big holiday/tourist periods in destination areas)
  • Choose the best airport to fly from and to
Shopping tools all are connected to the same database in the end, so it's all the same really. I usually end up booking at the airline website directly. Figure I might as well give them the margin instead of kayak (or similar).



Now, one thing you still can do is try to change where you book from. The same seat on the same flight booked from a Germany based computer for example can be more expensive or cheaper than one booked from the USA.



You can do that either via a proxy (free service on-line) to test prices or more simply when you are out of country already.


For example, domestic flights in the USA are usually more expensive when you book them from Europe. Conversely, booking domestic flights in Germany are more expensive usually when booked from the USA.



So if you travel to Germany and want to fly around, it might be helpful to wait and only book when you are already there.
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Old 07-24-2015, 07:56 PM   #11
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You might take a look at Google Flights

https://www.google.com/flights/

I don't know if you can book through it, but you can sure look through the database.
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Old 07-25-2015, 06:18 AM   #12
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Google flights, and you can query AUS, SAT, IAH, and DFW all at the same time and see all of Europe on the map with corresponding rates. Also British Airways/American fly direct out of Austin to London now. I got flights from AUS to London to Cape Town cheaper than just AUS to London! Aer Lingus also has some good rates in shoulder seasons. Great fun trying to find the deals. Just make sure the flights aren't weird times or long layovers.
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Old 07-25-2015, 06:46 AM   #13
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Google flights - shows you your options. They will then link you to the airline to mke the booking if you pick one. Google sometimes show you a calendar of prices versus date.

I usually book directly with the airline - it makes dealing with seat assignments easier and ability to change them later. Prices are usually the same or better than going through some third party site.
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Old 07-25-2015, 09:19 AM   #14
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Thanks all.

Yes, I've been working with Google Flights, ITA Matrix, Kayak and Skyscanner. And, like audreyh1, I prefer booking directly with airlines.

My two stumbling blocks right now are:
1. one-way fares to or from Europe are as expensive or more so than roundtrip, which makes open-jawing prohibitively expensive
2. The same ticket from consolidators is significantly less expensive -- but I don't want to deal with consolidators.

I am now investigating using award travel on Star Alliance, and finessing a stopover rather than open jaw. The trick seems to be finding a "legal" route that has a plane change in a country I'd like to stopover in.
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Old 07-25-2015, 03:08 PM   #15
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Are you booking these flights as separate transactions or on the same transaction? If on the same transaction, I'm surprised they are so much higher than a round-trip.

On United, you can book open jaw (returning to the same spot) using miles & they "cost" the same as a roundtrip. I did that on my last trip to India - flew in to Delhi and out from Mumbai & it cost the same number of miles as a round trip to either one of those destinations.

In the past, I've used consolidators and haven't had an issue.
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Old 07-25-2015, 03:12 PM   #16
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If there is a dominant airline at your nearest airport, then sign on to their "deals" email. Southwest and Frontier seem to have "sales" quite often.
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Old 07-25-2015, 05:53 PM   #17
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Are you booking these flights as separate transactions or on the same transaction? If on the same transaction, I'm surprised they are so much higher than a round-trip.

On United, you can book open jaw (returning to the same spot) using miles & they "cost" the same as a roundtrip. I did that on my last trip to India - flew in to Delhi and out from Mumbai & it cost the same number of miles as a round trip to either one of those destinations.

In the past, I've used consolidators and haven't had an issue.

Not booking yet, just finding flights and routings.

If they (AA, UA or any of the mets-search engines) quote a one way, it is generally as expensive or more so than a roundtrip -- which seems odd to me. But fortunately I don't want to go to Europe and not return...at least not this year.

For open jaw, yes my mistake was that I was looking at two one-ways. If I look at the open-jaw as a multi-city, then the pricing is much closer to two half-round-trip fares.

On roundtrip award travel, UA allows two open jaws and a stopover either outbound or inbound for the cost in miles of just a simple roundtrip. They sometimes allow an open jaw at the stopover as well; that seems to depend on the booking agent.

Thanks to all for the helpful suggestions!
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Old 07-25-2015, 06:06 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by BarbWire View Post
Thanks all.

Yes, I've been working with Google Flights, ITA Matrix, Kayak and Skyscanner. And, like audreyh1, I prefer booking directly with airlines.

My two stumbling blocks right now are:
1. one-way fares to or from Europe are as expensive or more so than roundtrip, which makes open-jawing prohibitively expensive
2. The same ticket from consolidators is significantly less expensive -- but I don't want to deal with consolidators.

I am now investigating using award travel on Star Alliance, and finessing a stopover rather than open jaw. The trick seems to be finding a "legal" route that has a plane change in a country I'd like to stopover in.
No! Open jaw flights are not expensive! They are about the same as round trip. We routinely do these flights.

Use the "Multi-City" tab on Google flights.
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Old 07-25-2015, 09:18 PM   #19
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No! Open jaw flights are not expensive! They are about the same as round trip. We routinely do these flights.

Use the "Multi-City" tab on Google flights.

Thanks,audreyh1!

Yeah, I did the Homer Simpson "Doh!" and slap to the forehead late last night, when I realized that I should be doing a multi-city search....

But now, reasonably priced open jaws being an option, that opens a whole new kettle of fish. After 4 weeks in the UK, do I want a week or so in Portugal or a week in Spain... or maybe open jaw from FCO....

Decisions, decisions .... Ah, the joys of being FIRE with no time constraints!

FYI: this afternoon I used CCleaner for a purge to remove all cookies, etc from my computer (I do this about once a month.) Then I downloaded Google Chrome (I usually use Firefox) and started my searches again in Chrome in Incognito mode. Not the same prices as I had yesterday in Firefox. This evening I restarted Chrome-Incognito and did a couple of the same searches....and prices were different again, mostly lower. Market dynamics? Cookies? Who knows.

Again, thanks to everyone!
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Old 07-26-2015, 08:27 AM   #20
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