Follow these tips to find cheap flights
Seattle Times travel staff
Looking online for a good deal on a flight? Here are some strategies:
Shop around : Check the Web sites of airlines and other travel companies, from Expedia to SideStep. You can get links to them at the Seattle Times Travel Web site, www.seattletimes.com/findaflight
Be aware that Southwest Airlines isn't included on some major sites such as Orbitz, due to corporate wrangles. To find listings of budget airlines worldwide, two useful Web sites are www.whichbudget.com and www.etn.nl/lcostair.htm
The Seattle Times publishes low-fare charts for international travel and domestic flights. However, airfares are so volatile that those are guidelines only as they change rapidly.
Simpler fares : Airlines post tens of thousands of worldwide fare changes daily, so be ready to be frustrated as you search. But some major airlines are streamlining fares to compete with the more straightforward and consumer-friendly pricing of budget airlines.
Air Canada has created five fare options for North American flights with varying levels of benefits, from cancellation penalties to mileage awards, clearly laid out on its Web site, www.aircanada.com. And minimum stays and round trips aren't required.
Be flexible: The more flexible you can be on travel dates, the better chance you'll have of finding a deal. Some Web sites such as Travelocity allow flexible-date searches for fares.
Look for flights at the less popular times: Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in the middle of the day or red-eye flights. Be aware that you may get the best deals if you book at least two to four weeks ahead; requirements vary by airline and domestically and internationally.
Try to avoid holiday and summer flights and travel instead in the off-season when crowds are smaller and prices fall. For instance, Seattle-London round-trip flights could be found for around $500 in the winter; this summer they're double that. Flights to Hawaii get pricey in summer and from mid-December to late March or April. Check out October or May for Hawaii deals. And flights to the Caribbean or Central America often are cheaper in late summer/early fall.
Alternative airports: Shop around for airports since flying into a secondary airport of a major city may be cheaper. For travel to San Francisco, check the fares to Oakland or San Jose. For Chicago, check Midway. For Los Angeles, check Long Beach and Ontario. For Washington, D.C., check Baltimore. For New York City, check Newark.
Last-minute flights : Airlines publicize "last-minute flights" on their Web sites at discounted prices. They're usually offered on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for flights the following weekend. A handy way to find last-minute fares from Seattle on various airlines, including Alaska, is through www.smartertravel.com/air/.
Get creative on ticketing : Sometimes it can be cheaper to get two tickets to a distant destination instead of one. Called "split-fare tickets," you fly to a major city (which has lower fares thanks to competition) and then take a second flight to your destination on a cut-rate airline. For instance, fly to London on one of the major carriers, then take a budget airline within Europe. Just be sure to allow time in case of flight delays/airport transfers.
Need only a one-way ticket? They can be priced sky-high on some airlines, which think they're snaring business travelers or desperate last-minute travelers. Round-trip tickets can be substantially cheaper: Just throw away the return portion, although be aware that airlines frown on that.
Get personal: Sometimes person-to-person contact can get you a good deal. Travel agents who deal with wholesalers, or consolidators, may be able to get cheaper international seats, especially on flights to Asia or South America.
Also try airline reservations staff. Although many U.S. airlines have closed city ticket offices to save money, all have toll-free reservation phone lines. You may hit it lucky and find a staffer who will have the time and kindness to help find a low fare. If not, phone again later and see if a different person will help more.
Protect yourself: Protect yourself when buying online. Read the terms and conditions so you know the rules on ticket changes/cancellations.
If you're unfamiliar with the company you're dealing with, check it out through the Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.com, to see if there are any red flags. Look for a phone number and physical address on the Web site, and verify them. And always pay with a credit card since there is some recourse under federal fair-credit laws if you don't get what you've paid for.
Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company