I am the go-to girl when family and friends want to find the cheapest flight to just about anywhere in the world. Sometimes I get lucky and find an incredible fare with one or more segments of the trip seated in First Class. What’s the secret? Flexibility, perseverance and creativity form the backbone of my airfare deal hunting strategy.
Know where you want to go and when? My first step is a quick survey of one of the larger on-line travel booking sites, such as www.sidestep.com, to determine which airlines fly to, or sometimes near, the preferred destination. I also check other sites including, Orbitz, Priceline, Yahoo Travel, Mobissimo, etc. because their corporate affiliations vary, they may offer slightly better prices with a particular airline, rental car company, or hotel chain. Or if I need more than just a ticket, their connections may save me $$ over booking each service separately. This brief information gathering exercise usually gives me a good sense of a price target to meet or, hopefully, beat before I book a trip.
What’s next? If travel dates are flexible I search for the lowest fares over several weeks. SideStep and other travel search engines may ask you to sign up to use this service, but registration is generally free, and the flexible search option can really pay off. It lets me find the cheapest days of the week to fly to a particular destination or route. Frequently, I find a dip in prices mid-week and sometimes on Saturdays. These days tend to have fewer travelers and airlines discount fares in order to fill flights.
Once I determine the best date, the destination airport options, and my target price, I check individual airline sites to look for current sales or promotions. If I am a member of the airline’s frequent flyer program and have miles, I check for frequent flyer deals, cash for miles fares, or one-way vs. round trip deals. Last March I combined a one-way fare sale, one-way cash for miles deal and got my son a round-trip deal between Seattle and Oakland for a total of $49 including tax and airport fees.
Depending on which airline offers the best fares to your destination, you may have options for discounts that come from creative thinking versus a fare sale. For example, The Entertainment book typically includes discount deals for specific travel sites. You can even use your Internet search engine to query for discount coupons and promotional codes or sales for the airline you know has the lowest deals for your destination or route. Take the time to check things out; you may save 5%, or more.
Once I determine the airline with the best coach fare deal, I always look at what it costs to fly First Class on the same or comparable flights. Sometimes, airlines have a transfer or buy miles deal that can boost your miles to the threshold to get a better seat on the same flight. Other times you may have to look at an alternate destination in order to get a better seat.
Last summer my husband and I scored First Class round trip seats for $600 each from Seattle to Nashville, TN. Booking months ahead and choosing to fly to Nashville instead of Memphis (ironically for the same price on the same flights) got us closer to our destination. We had thought about flying First Class to Memphis and renting a car to drive to our destination, but it turned out we could get to where we really wanted to be and the cost was the same, the flights were the same, and we flew First Class both ways. We traveled on an early flight, but that small inconvenience scored us wide seats, free food, and a relaxed flight for just $400 more than the price we would have paid for the same flights in Coach. Considering this was a vacation we decided the extra expense was worth it and had a fabulous time.
The current economic downturn may be bad for many, but if you have the cash, miles, and/or need to travel you will find it is even a bit easier to get airline deals simply because fewer people have the cash, to fly for business or pleasure. If you are willing to take a bit of time to check out options available for where you want to go you may just find you can afford a better seat on a better flight than you might have considered possible. You can also check out last minute deals.Since businesses are purchasing fewer First Class seats you may find you can upgrade for a reasonable fee and enjoy free food and drinks for your flight.
This coming fall my son will travel on a non-stop flight from Seattle to Detroit, flying Coach one way and First Class on the return segment. The fare ended up costing $40 more than a round trip Coach fare on the same non-stop flights. This deal was possible because the airline offered to double the value of any member miles transferred from one account to another. So 15,000 miles in one account become 30,000 in the other. Combining that with a good cash and miles fare scored the deal. Of course not too many people are breaking down doors to visit Michigan, most folks are going the opposite direction, but we have relatives in the State and a deal is a deal.
When I want to find first class options I expand my search to alternate airports, routes, airlines, one-way, or round trip tickets. I don’t recommend blindly naming my own price with airline flights. Some of those deals can get you a cheap fare, but you will not get to choose your departure time, preferred number of stops, and you might end your trip at an out-of-the-way airport with fewer transportation options, etc. If you love surprises, however, this method may appeal to you. I hate flying and the least amount of time I spend in a plane or at an airport the happier I am, so I look for deals that balance cost, convenience, and, above all comfort.
Take some extra time to explore your options. The results may surprise you and you may just find yourself being coddled and pampered in a wide First or Business Class cabin. You don’t have to be rich, just savvy and smart.