Do student airfares save money? Sometimes, but the restrictions are always better

April 08, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:

    If you’re under 26, a student, or a teacher then this is for you. We were curious as to whether sites specializing in student discounts such as STA Travel or Student Universe do in fact save students money on airfare. Through our research, we found that special student fares offered by these agencies have more flexibility as to restrictions—and sometimes lower fares as well. The change fees are typically much lower than a normal fare purchased from other online travel agencies and in many cases they’re refundable minus a $250 fee (most discounted fares are totally non-refundable). According an STA spokesperson, “These are special fares we have are negotiated with the airlines directly. Our fares are great because they offer students flexibility as many times, for example, they are not sure when they’ll return from a study abroad program. This really gives the student a cheaper alternative than purchasing a ticket elsewhere”.

    In the accompanying chart, you can see a breakdown of fares on various routes and dates comparing the student agencies with regular online travel vendors.

    We searched four different international routes. On the surface, it doesn’t look like student fares offered by STA and Student Universe are super cheap compared to fares found elsewhere, but if you take into account the change fees, they end up looking better. For example: the New York to London fare that STA offers requires a $50 change fee plus any fare difference, or a $200 penalty to refund the entire ticket.  A typical international fare bought elsewhere would required a $250 change fee, if it’s changeable at all. And you’d have to use any remaining value within a year of issue.

    If you’re flying domestically, then the savings aren’t as great. And in general, most airlines don’t offer student discounts. The exception in the Air Tran student travel program, which allows students 18-22 to purchase tickets and travel on a standby basis. Fares start at $39 for short haul and $99 for long haul, but on-stop flights only. Be patient as this is standby only, so you might not get a seat and instead of heading to Atlanta you’ll be headed back to your dorm room.