Q. I am trying to book a cruise to the French Polynesian Islands that leaves from Papeete on August 2, 2005. I was told Delta Air Lines flies there, although when I did research there were no flights on the first or second of August leaving out of Los Angeles. Are you aware of any other airlines that fly to Papeete? We live in the Miami area, and our flight will originate out of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. I went on American's site and the fares were astronomical.
A. You might want to check out Air Tahiti Nui which offers non-stop flights from Los Angeles (daily) or New York JFK (outbound on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, inbound on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays). Every now and then the airline offers specials with a round-trip between Los Angeles and Tahiti for under $500 round-trip. You might want to check fares separately from Miami to LA, and then from LA to Tahiti.
If you haven't already made your cruise reservation, you can also find cruise specials that include airfare from either Los Angeles or New York.
Q. My daughter is studying in Madrid, Spain and she is trying to travel to Lourdes, France in May. The cheapest flight she has found so far is $1,699! Do you have any suggestions?
A. The fastest way to get between Madrid and Lourdes is by air, using one of the many low cost carriers available. The ticket pricing she got was probably flying with Air France, and that can be costly. The cheaper option would require buying two separate tickets from two different airlines - the downside to that is she'll have to spend a night at the Brussels airport or a nearby hotel, which may not be so bad if she is trying to save money. The first leg is between Madrid and Brussels on either Vueling (10 to 60 EUR each way) or Virgin Express (from 73 EUR each way). The next leg would be between Brussels and Lourdes on Jetairfly (39 to 129 EUR each way). There's only one flight a day between Brussels and Lourdes, departing 7:45AM, and based on what I've found online, neither Vueling nor Virgin Express have flights arriving Brussels that early. Depending on how flexible her schedule is, she might want to take a few days to explore Brussels.
The 10 to 12 hour train ride is also an option, and it'll probably cost her under 60 EUR each way. With the train, she'll again have to buy two separate tickets: Madrid to Hendaye, France (on the border of Spain and France,) through RENFE, the Spanish National Railway Network; and from Hendaye to Lourdes through SCNF, the French National Railway. From Madrid to Hendaye, it'll be about seven hours and cost 35 to 47 EUR, and between Hendaye and Lourdes, it'll be three to four and a half hours, at about 23 EUR. The upside to taking the train is that your daughter won't have to spend a night anywhere. The train schedule (available through the sites above) is such that she won't have to wait for more than an hour at Hendaye. She can opt for a night train from Madrid in a sleeper car, but that'll be at a premium, of course.
Q. My partner and I are planning a month long trip from our home in Denver to Sri Lanka, sometime at the end of February. We're looking for the best air deal. Any suggestions?
A. You might try pricing two separate flights on two different airlines: Denver to London and then London to Colombo, Sri Lanka (on www.Opodo.com perhaps), and perhaps stay over a night in London to break up the trip. Denver to London is running about $500 with taxes right now on USAir. I think it would be cheaper than buying a Denver to Colombo flight directly on Orbitz or whatever. London to Colombo is going to cost you around $850 round-trip if you buy it through the usual channels, but I'll bet you can buy the fare from a London "bucket shop" (or airfare consolidator) for less. Try getting a hold of a London Times travel section online or at a news stand that carries foreign papers, and look there for consolidator ads.
Or try this London consolidator for Asia: www.VISITASIA.co.uk.
Q. In June 2007 my wife and I will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary and we're planning to taking our family, eight in all, to Hawaii. How far in advance should I make my airline reservation? We can fly from Richmond, VA or Washington, DC. Which airline would you recommend for the best price?
A. It's a bit early to be looking for fares, since airlines only publish fares a maximum of 330 or so days ahead. If you have the patience and time, sometime in August you might start searching for fares once a day. There are sometimes unadvertised fare wars to Hawaii from major hubs, such as United's Washington Dulles hub. But these sales might last only a day or only a few hours (best to check in the morning), and the only way to learn about them is to check the route, preferably using a Travelocity.com flexible date search. You can actually bookmark the specific Washington-Honolulu results page on Travelocity, and even make it your browser's home page if you're bent on finding a deal. The best airline to go with is the one that offers the lowest fare.
Q. Are there any Web sites that will alert you for airline fare reductions for a future date? Let me explain: Travelocity offers a fare watch list that one can put in starting and ending destinations and then be alerted if the price drops below a price you specify. The problem with this are most alerts are for fare reductions that require travel within the near future. I'm looking for a site that will allow me to put in my future travel dates, let's say October 2006, then have it alert me when the fares fall for travel during that time period. Do you know of any sites that will accomplish this?
A. Unfortunately, there isn't a Web site that offers those kinds of alerts (at least non I'm aware of). However, Travelocity's FareWatcher service (access it on the front page of Travelocity.com) does on occasion offer fares that go out as many as 330 days in advance; the problem with them is that they search for fares once a day, at 3 AM, and only on weekdays; some of the best deals appear on weekends; and sometimes they pop up later in the morning. Also, Travelocity doesn't search Southwest or JetBlue, so you may be missing out on some good deals. Orbitz also offers a low fare alert service.
Q. I've noticed however that on most airfare search sites you cannot do a flexible travel date search combined with a "nearby airport" search (so that if I were flexible in both my dates and my aiport of departure or arrival I could possibly save money). Any idea if there are sites that let you do both simultaneously?
A. You're correct that the best flexible date search tool, Travelocity, doesn't allow you to be both flexible in your travel dates and your airports. However, if you perform a flexible search on Travelocity, and then choose your travel dates, if there's a lower fare on those dates from or to an alternate airport then Travelocity is pretty good about flagging the better deal. Also, Cheapair.com will automatically list fares to alternate airports in its flexible date results. So for example, if you search for flights from New York to San Francisco the first result you'll see in Cheapair will probably be flights to less-expensive Oakland.
Q. My daughter is pregnant and is due about the end of August, 2006. My wife and I live in Jacksonville and my daughter lives in San Diego. My wife wants to fly out when the baby is due so that she can help out for a couple of weeks. My question is how best to handle the travel and is there one airline that would be better than another if we need to change travel dates after purchasing a fare. I know non- refundable tickets are usually cheaper but we may need to change our plans based on the baby's arrival.
A. I would buy your fare from an airline with a low or non-existent change fee, which, considering your routing, means that Southwest is probably your best bet. If you have to cancel your reservation and rebook, Southwest will not charge a change penalty as such. However, if the fare has gone up between the time you purchased and the time you rebook, then you will have to pay the fare difference (if it's gone down, on the other hand, you get a credit for future use, with no "service fee" deducted). Southwest is unique in this regard. Other airlines with low change fees, by the way, include JetBlue, Airtran, and Spirit.
Q. My husband and I are planning a trip to see Prague, Warsaw, Krakow and Budapest this June. Is it best to fly into and out of a large city, like Vienna and then take the train to these other cities or fly into Prague and out of another city closest to Budapest?
A. You'll probably get a better fare deal if you fly from your home airport to Vienna and back from Vienna to home, rather than hopping around on planes or flying into one city and out from another (a so-called open jaw fare). However, I'd also suggest investigating flying into London, where there's more competition, and then adding on a flight from there to an Eastern European destination. You can see airline route maps for the European discount airlines at http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/pages/3799645/airline-routes-official-airline-route-maps/. In you fly into Vienna, you're more or less traveling in a circle to visit the places you've listed and all of these cities are easy to reach by rail. You can find out about Eurailpasses by going to www.raileurope.com or calling (877) 257-2887.
Q. I am an inexperienced traveler. The last time I left the U.S. was seven years ago and that was to Canada. Several acquaintances are planning a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in October, followed by a safari. It sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and I would love to go along. However, I need a lot of help - from airfares to passports to cash and credit cards. Being used to U.S. airfares, I was taken aback by the cost of a ticket from Minnesota. I would have to arrive in Arusha by the evening of October and be dropped off in Arusha on the afternoon of October 21. My passport, with my lone Canadian stamp, expires in February, 2007. While I do have 60,000 frequent flier miles on Delta, it seems that this will only get me to Des Moines in January. Can you give me any advice on getting a good fare, as well any other suggestions that might be helpful?
A. The first thing you'll need to do renew your passport (or get a new one if it's more than 15 years old when it expires). You'll need a minimum of six months left on your passport, or you might be refused entry into Tanzania. Passport information to Tanzania is available through the U.S. Department of State at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1038.html.
It's common for airfares to Africa to be expensive, especially to Arusha, as airline choices are limited. Your frequent flyer miles won't get you all the way to Africa, but they might get you to London or Amsterdam where you can then buy a flight onward to Arusha. An award ticket to Europe starts from 50,000 miles on Delta.
Also, you might want to check with your acquaintances how they booked their airfare, since they might have purchased an air and land package which would simplify things a lot.
Q. We are looking to go to Las Vegas from October 5 to 10 from the New York City area. What do you think is the best time to lock in our airfare, and what's the best way to secure the cheapest fares?
A. It's a very competitive route so you shouldn't have trouble finding fares as low as $79 one-way. I've even see it for less. The airlines have secret sales all the time so I suggest checking routes every day. I like Travelocity's flexible date function the best since it looks for fares 330 days ahead versus 30 days ahead for Orbitz. Cheapair.com is also good although they charge a rather high $9.95 per booking. Other sites have limited or no flexible date searches.
Q. I have a question travel to Europe this summer. If you recall, there was a discount airline called Eurofly that started flying from JFK to Naples, Bologna and Sicily last summer (I think they were previously a charter outfit). Do you know if there may be additional start-up low cost carriers flying from major US airports to Europe in time for this summer?
A. There are no new low cost carriers that I know of. Eurofly is still in operation and has some good nonstop fares to Italy. However, Virgin Atlantic just had the sale of the decade to London from most of its gateways. The fares were good for travel any day, any month, between February 2006 and early January 2007 and ranged from $400 to $470 round-trip, including all taxes, government fees, and fuel surcharges. This deal, available only on Travelocity.com, popped up on a recent Saturday afternoon and lasted for about two days before it was withdrawn. You never know, a sale like this might pop up again.
Q. I am so confused now about when to book flights. What has happened to the tried and true rule that booking early and on mid-week days is cheaper? My last few trips, I've found this rule to be completely untrue. I've booked flights early only to see prices slashed in half a few weeks before the trip. I've waited until a few weeks before a trip only to end up angry because the prices did not get slashed but instead got higher! It seems that info about when to book flights is outdated or obsolete. I travel worldwide, so have no specific destination in mind for this question. I would just love some solid, applicable info about when to book flights in general. Help!
A. There really is no best time. Airlines lower fares on different routes everyday without advertising them. A fare could be $400 today and $98 tomorrow, and then $500 the next day. Usually, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to travel, but not to buy airfares. You have to look at fares on the routes you want to fly every single day for a few weeks (using a Travelocity or Cheapair.com flexible date search unless you're flying on Southwest, which doesn't list their fares on such sites) and then adjust your schedule to whenever the fare is lowest. It may help to sign up for Airfarewatchdog.com fare alerts.
Q. My fiancée and I are trying to fly to St. Vincent in the Grenadines just before Christmas, but we're finding that the flights are costing nearly $900 round-trip. Furthermore, many of the flight options entail long layovers. Can you help me find a better way to get there?
A. St. Vincent is expensive to get to if you try to book fares directly to the island. But try this: try booking the fare from your home airport to either Barbados or San Juan, and then a separate fare from there to St. Vincent. To cite one example: US Air right now has New York to Barbados for $393 plus tax RT (in fact, that's pretty high: I've seen it much lower). And guess what: there's a $127 RT fare from Barbados to St. Vincent on LIAT, a regional commuter airline. LIAT has five flights a day from 7:45 AM to 7:10 PM on that 40 minute hop). Both flights will be nonstops.
You might also try routing through San Juan. New York to San Juan is just $198 and from there to St. Vincent is around $270 on LIAT. As you can see, the savings can be huge, especially if there are two of you. This same strategy works for other Caribbean destinations. It's often cheaper to buy a fare from City A to City B, and then from B to C rather than from A to C. Who knows why?
I don't want to be glib: if there's a flight irregularity on your initial incoming flight and you miss the puddle jumper to St. Vincent, you can't go bawling to the airlines. So leave enough connection time and be flexible, perhaps scheduling an overnight in San Juan or Barbados.
Q. I am planning a trip to San Juan from Dallas with a friend from Memphis. The lowest fare from Dallas I could find was $354 round-trip on American. But my friend's fare, also on American, from Memphis to San Juan with a connection in Dallas (where I could join him on the plane) is just $188, almost $200 less. It seems odd that my friend will be flying a longer distance and paying so much less than I will.
My question is, Why can't I buy a Memphis/Dallas/San Juan/Dallas/Memphis fare and just use the Dallas/San Juan/Dallas portion of the ticket?
A. Because American will cancel your entire itinerary when you don't show up for the Memphis-Dallas outbound flight.