Airfare Expert Reveals Travel Deals

Type in the words "travel deals" into Google and out spits dozens of sites claiming to have the cheapest airfares. But Airfarewatchdog.com is one worth a try. The privately-funded site uses a team of people to scour online travel agencies such as Travelocity and airline Web sites for cheap airfares that may not be obvious or even advertised to Web surfers. I recently talked to George Hobica, the site's founder, to get some insight on holiday travel and finding the best airfares.

I've heard lately that people are getting better deals by going directly to airline Web sites rather than online travel agencies. Is that true?
You have to look in both places. We found recently everywhere that Virgin Atlantic flies in the U.S. to London for about 50 to 60 percent less on Travelocity than what Virgin was selling it for on their site. Travelocity bought a lot of seats on Virgin to sell them for higher prices and then decided they needed to get rid of them. So they had this unadvertised, four-day sale.

Why are the prices on sites like Travelocity so different from the airlines' sites for the same flight?
The airlines are encouraging people more and more to book on their sites. They'd rather build customer loyalty and avoid the fees that online travel agencies charge. Some airlines are giving 500 bonus miles if you book on their site. And increasingly you're seeing airlines listing their best fares on their own sites. They're trying to squeeze out the online travel agencies and they'll probably be successful. The advantage to Travelocity and Orbitz is they have good flexible date search engines. Most of the airlines don't yet. And some airlines don't appear at all on online travel agencies. JetBlue is not on Orbitz anymore. Virgin America is not on all the airline travel agencies. You have to shop around.

How far in advance should you be booking your ticket for Thanksgiving and Christmas to get a good deal?
It's too late now. You'll save some money if you travel on Thanksgiving Day and come back the Saturday after. But you're still going to pay double what you would have paid if you booked in advance. You need to book for Thanksgiving and Christmas two to three months ahead in this environment. The airlines have cut seats and they're raising fares and the economy is good.

Do people use travel agents anymore?
There's a movement to go back to travel agents even though they charge fees for booking airline tickets. Simply because it takes so long to find the right fare. Even if you pay a fee, it's worth it if you have a trusted travel agent who always gets you the best deal. The growth in online travel booking is actually going down.

Is there a certain time of day or a set day in the month when airlines do their sales?
Airfares can change domestically up to three times a day during the week and once a day on weekends. International fares change once a day. Surprisingly, Saturday is sometimes a good day because the last fare change of the day is 8 p.m. on Friday. Those fares pop up around 10 p.m. to midnight, eastern standard time. If you're an airline that wants to sneak in a sale and you don't want your competitors to be able to match it right away, you'll do it on Friday night because there's only one update on Saturday and that's at 5 p.m. Chances are the airlines' fare analysts not really working on Saturdays.

Any other words of wisdom for flying around the holidays?
Put on your calendar on October 1st of 2008 a little tickler, "Book holiday travel now" for Christmas.

What are your secrets for finding good deals on flights? Are you flying to your destination this Thanksgiving?


Don't miss: For additional steals, deals and tales from the road, check out Travel Log, our travel blog.

By Tania Anderson |  November 13, 2007; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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Pretty sure he meant Virgin Atlantic was flying to London from the US, as Virgin America does not fly internationally.

AirlineFanatic

Posted by: AirlineFanatic | November 13, 2007 1:08 PM

I think he got the numbers incorrectly as well. It is a fact that last year was a record for online sales and the trend continues to grow. I strongly disagree with him that airlines will succeed in "squeezing out" online travel agencies. That would only work if one particular airline had best prices all the time which is impossible. Today Delta has best prices, tomorrow it will be American and the day after tomorrow it will be United. So in order to find best fares customer will have to visit 600 (or more) websites. Does anybody think it will work? plus don't forget about private (consolidated) fares. Terms of the contracts prohibit airlines form listing those fares on their websites so you still will have to go to online (or offline) travel agency/consolidator.

Allen
http://www.faremax.com

Posted by: Allen | November 13, 2007 2:48 PM

Tanya,

I think you mean Virgin Atlantic with fares on Travelocity discounted to London, no? Virgin America is a domestic carrier only and there are no code sharing arrangements at this time.

Posted by: SFO 1K | November 13, 2007 7:06 PM

Thanks to SFO 1K and AirlineFanatic for pointing that out.

Posted by: Tania Anderson | November 14, 2007 7:22 AM

I also use kayak.com to search for airline tickets. It pulls from various databases including Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. Best advice is to give yourself time to shop around. Also, it never hurts to sign up for e-mail notices on often-travelled routes.

Posted by: McLean | November 14, 2007 10:49 AM

This story is full of misinformation. Check out: http://rickseaney.com/2007/11/14/im-tired-of-misinformed-travel-experts/ for the real story!

Posted by: Traveller | November 14, 2007 3:52 PM

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