How I learned to stop worrying and love the dot bomb (airfare entry 2)

London Travel Blog

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I've decided that from this point forward in these entries that I am going to give myself a moniker, something of some grandeur, something of high self importance to reflect my state of mind. From this point forward, I will now refer to myself as “the General”. We'll go off now to reader questions.

General Nonsense, the points in your last entry were boring and didn't provide any use at all. Having punished myself with your previous entry could you at least attempt to show us how to find good airfare?

Good question. Didn't much care for the tone though, so after I answer I will send my minions, err, servants, err, people, over to have a quick chat with you about the proper email etiquette. That having been said finding good airfare used to be a lot of black magic, magic that used to be the sole propriety of travel agents and other professional holiday makers. You also used to get cooked meals in first class (as in made by a chef on the plane) and long haul flights used to provide beds. Things change. Airlines serve freeze dried ready meals, seats.. suck and most of the reservation functions have been exported to websites so that airlines can cut staff and not pay third parties to sell their tickets. Progress happens, although I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader as to whether or not this kind of progress is a good thing. Airfare has stayed relatively stable (i.e. Hasn't gone up all that much over the years) and flying is now as common as taking a bus and sometimes cheaper. Unfortunately, airlines have in their efforts to cut costs, turned flying into the 30000 foot version of taking the bus.

But that's a story for another day..

I could go on, actually, and I almost did but in the interest of some brevity and getting a focus on this, I'm just going to dive into some tools that I normally use to help find decent airfare. What is decent, obviously, depends greatly upon your starting point, end point, when you want to fly, which airlines, what benefits you're looking for or conversely what benefits you can do without, etc...

I'm going to do an example here and well, for my example, I will have to make some assumptions. First, since this a “typical” trip for myself, I generally avoid Southwest and some of the other LLCs (low cost carriers). Generally speaking, while for some people the Southwest model works quite well, I have a strong distrust of any airline that does not put its airfare out into the public domain to be compared with the national/international carriers. This having been said, for some routes, Southwest can certainly be the cheapest, esp. if you're flying last minute as they don't generally tend to punish their last minute flyers as much as a traditional carrier (see previous entry). I have other motivations for not taking Southwest as well, like being able to pick my seat at booking and a decent frequent flyer program with partners that can take me around the world, but that's neither here nor there.


Looking to fly from LA to Washington, DC, sometime in the future for a week long holiday.

I've chosen this example because I'm from the US so most of my searching experience will be relevant. I may write up a good way to find cheapo airfare in Europe (as I've done a bit of that as well) in a separate entry. Everyone has their favorite tools as there are a lot of them, I'm just going to detail mine.

Generally speaking, this is now my first step when I don't have specific dates in mind and often times, I don't get too far beyond this step. Although, I do search all of the websites I'm going to list here for general completeness and to make sure there isn't a cheaper deal for what I want some place else.

Farecompare is fairly new on the scene and it does a number of things which I like quite a lot. Its a great website alone just for its airfare alerts. Which is a topic for another entry. The site places the lowest airfare for most of the major carriers in a calendar format based first on the month and then when you select for a particular month, by the day. Its much like the interface for travelocity, if you're familiar with that. The only annoyance with this site, much like travelocity, it just shows when a fare might be available. If a specific fare bucket (seats are sold in varying fare classes) is sold out, its not told to you until you specify your specific days. This can sort of get you into a situation of airfare “wack-a-mole” where you select days only to find out that the fare isn't there, etc etc. Anyway, the point of this exercise is to find out when the cheapest airfares might be available. On Saturdays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays? On Weekends? Monday – Thursday? Etc.

Armed with this knowledge I then choose any number (and typically all of them) of the swiss army chainsaws of travel searching, the airfare consolidator websites. In order,,,, and This might seem like a lot of work, but with a decent web-browser (like mozilla), I can drop in each site into a different tab and work out the details in each particular engine as the previous site is “searching”. Yea, I'm a guy and I can multitask. Normally, they'll all concur about the results, but sometimes you get different ideas (like, kayak didn't tell me that LANChile flew from Buenos Aires to Mendoza but itasoftware did and I saved myself about $40 -granted I had to go to LANChile's website and find out that there was a direct flight but why quibble over small details).

Not all swiss army chainsaws are equal though. Orbitz, Travelocity, Cheaptickets, etc, all these sites charge you a fee to book with them (somewhere between 5-10 dollars). Unless you can't find the fare you're looking for in other places, I would avoid booking with them. is great but you can't book on it, so it can only give you ideas of what an itinerary you could take would be. Its search options are the best of all the websites, heck I could dedicate an entry just to the goodness that is if you're looking for very specific air travel. If I find something that I like there, I normally will head to the airline website and attempt to find the itinerary that they're suggesting. But I have to say, I'm pretty partial to kayak. Mostly this is because it passes you through to the airline website to do your booking. This is good in a number of ways, simply put, booking with the airline directly means that if you have something go wrong, like the airplane is delayed or cancelled, you only have to deal with the airline and not the travel website which can be atrocious (call the booking agent, no, call the airline, no call the booking agent, etc). Not only this, but you tend to avoid the booking fee as the pass through via the website gives kayak a bit of kickback for directing you to the airline and you get a booking bonus, typically, from the airline for doing your shopping online, usually something like 500 frequent flyer miles.

I know, pretty generic advice, on the whole, but we've only just begun.

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photo by: ulysses