Every month, TravelSmith, the travel clothing and accessory catalog and Web site, interviews a travel expert. We thought this interview with Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica was especially informative. But of course we would, wouldn't we?
The reason we love Airfarewatchdog is that they do the heavy lifting for you - real people (not just a computer program) search and scour the industry for the best fares to anywhere, and then consolidate it and send it right to your email box. So handy - and perfect for finding inspiration for your next trip.
Airfarewatchdog also goes beyond the basic (but incredibly useful) service of just letting you know about low airfares, with other tools like airline route maps, advice on avoiding luggage fees, and an exceptionally helpful message board.
Why did you launch airfare watchdog?
I started Airfarewatchdog because, in researching articles on airfare search and comparison sites, I found them lacking and thought I could do a better job serving consumers.
How far ahead should we start shopping for airfares?
For peak holiday and Easter or spring break vacation periods, the time is now. Not only will fares probably not come down for peak holiday travel weekends and school breaks, but you'll have a better chance of sitting with your family and friends if you book ahead. But an unadvertised sale for non-peak travel periods could pop up at any hour. In general, it's best to give yourself at least 21 days before you plan to travel for non-peak travel times, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are always the cheapest days of the week to travel.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make when looking for low airfare?
Consumers should use a flexible date search on sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz if their travel dates aren't set in stone. And they should search for fares several times a day, because there are unadvertised price reductions on many routes, and fares can go up and down during the day like share prices on the stock market. Airfares are not set in stone, and the advertised sales are usually not all that mind blowing. Also, if you see what seems like a great fare, grab it. It might not be there later in the day, because fares are capacity controlled and the cheapest seats sell out fast.
As more of us look to travel domestically, are there some secrets to finding low fares?
Airlines are increasingly using promo codes and widgets to sell unadvertised sale fares directly to consumers. Sign up for email newsletters and frequent flyer programs, because it's often members only who get these codes and specials. American Airlines has something called DealFinderwith discounts up to 30% and Southwest has their Ding! Fares. The only downside is that these widgets have been reported to slow down some users computers. Also if you are booking at the last minute, Priceline.com is a great way to save. Downside: you won't know the exact flight times or airline until after you've paid.
Is it generally better to book directly with an airline or through an online booking engine?
It depends. Travelocity and Orbitz have much better flexible date search capabilities than do most airline sites; however, increasingly, airlines are reserving unadvertised specials for their own sites only, and sometimes have better seat availability on their own sites. Spirit Airlines is a good example, with their crazy 1 cent fares available only to members of their $9 Fare Club, and Virgin America has had two for one deals available only to members of their frequent flyer program. I suggest searching both ways.
Are there times when using a travel agent will save you money?
Travel agents can definitely save you time, and time is money. Really good travel agents are sometimes hard to find, but if you do succeed in finding one, they can be your best friend. For example, a travel agent can build in a longer layover between connecting flights so you'll be sure to make your onward flight, whereas this might be difficult using Travelocity or an airline 800 number.
What are some reasons you might NOT want to go with the lowest of low fares?
With all the new fees that some airlines are charging for baggage, pets, unaccompanied minors and such, it's not just the fare any more, but the final price with fees. If Southwest has a slightly higher fare, but lower fees, than another airline, then you should go with Southwest or whoever has the best deal once all the extras are added in. Also, nonstop flights are often more expensive than connecting ones, but you're sometimes better off paying more for the nonstop and not worrying about missed connections.
Finally, if you could offer only one golden nugget of advice for finding low airfares, what would it be?
Well, of course, it would be to sign up for Airfarewatchdog alerts. We have a staff of professional travel agents and fare analysts who do nothing all day except search every possible source, including promo codes and airline-site-only fares, and when they find what they think is a good deal, they post it on our site and send out alerts to those who have signed up. We're the only site that includes fares on all airlines, including Southwest and Allegiant, a small but growing discount airline that serves Las Vegas, Florida, and Arizona.
For more from George and his team at Airfarewatchdog, check out the Top Ten Tips for finding low airfares.