Plane Dealer: Booking Your Own Travel

by Tiffany Lee Brown for Digital Living Today

So you need a last-minute plane ticket to LA, or to skip town for a weekend of spontaneous fun. Thanks to online travel resources, you can find surprisingly affordable deals — you can even afford that trip to Europe you keep saying is “too expensive.”

Your first thought might be to hit the airlines’ own sites, such as www.delta-air.com, www.united.com, or www.virgin-atlantic.com. In reality, “asking an airline how much they want you to pay for a ticket is like asking the IRS how much tax they want you to pay,” according to Edward Hasbrouk, author of The Practical Nomad: How To Travel Around The World (www.practicalnomad.com). The exception comes in the form of last-minute fare deals and Web-only specials. Look for buttons like “Cyber Deals” or “Online Only” on airline Web sites to see listings or receive weekly email updates — and remember to check out secondary airports.

For example, I was able to send a sick friend home for emergency surgery using Northwest’s CyberSavers (www.nwa.com/travel/cyber/overview.html), making a reservation only one day before her flight, which departed from a small suburban airport. It cost about $150 — a savings of over $400 compared to any other deal I dug up that day.

For spur-of-the-moment vacation travel, take a hint from Joe Ehrlich, Warranty Director for The North Face. He calls himself a “reverse travel consumer,” going abroad off-season and selecting his destinations according to what’s available. SkyAuction (www.skyauction.com/ — an easy-to-use, well-organized site with reliable service — is his favorite place to pick up inexpensive tickets. If you want to travel internationally sometime soon, you should also keep an eye on the UK’s CheapTickets (www.cheaptickets.com), Germany’s Tiss (www.tiss.com), and The Daily Auction (www.thedailyauction.com).

Ebay (www.ebay.com) offers airline ticket auctions, too. You’ll see dozens of “too good to be true” ticket offers starting with low bids of around $10; the catch is that you must stay at an affiliated hotel for seven nights, at $79 or more per night. You can name your own maximum price for tickets on sites including Priceline (www.priceline.com), Expedia (www.expedia.com), travelbids.com (www.travelbids.com, and the new Hotwire service, currently in beta at www.hotwire.com.

To stay in the loop on everyone’s deals, sign up for email newsletters and “fare watchers,” which send you information only related to your preferred destinations and departure cities. Try Travelzoo.com, Travelocity,com, Expedia, and Bestfares.com. As with any discount travel resource, do your research if anything seems too good to be true. The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.com) can help, as can fellow travelers. Find them on Usenet in groups like rec.travel (www.deja.com/group/rec.travel) and on discussion boards associated with travel publishers — a great one for budget and exotic travelers is Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com).

Remember, you can travel on the cheap. Just be prepared to do it according to the great deals you find online.

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