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The new hunt for airfare

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WASHINGTON (6/27/11)--The hunt for the best airfare is shape shifting again. If you don’t adjust your search methods to the times, you could find yourself paying a lot more for your flight than your row mate on the same flight (NPR June 21). It’s not enough to simply check Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline and Expedia--not when you can employ powerful travel search engines that let you compare multiple websites at once for the best ticket prices, keep track of a trend in airfares, and sign up for deal alerts. Take a look at websites Kayak, Mobissimo, Bing, FareCompare, Airfarewatchdog and Hotwire. In addition, use these tips to save yourself more than a few bucks:
* Shop for your tickets in the middle of the week, when airlines post advertised sales. Stay away from weekends. * Be ready, be flexible, and don’t delay. In any minute more than two million transactions take place on the worldwide computerized reservation network. With the surge in airline use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, millions of people are instantly finding out when dirt-cheap deals are posted. Whether you get an alert from one of the search engines named above or from a social networking site, jump on it. These deals usually are gone in one to two hours. * Purchase tickets during a four-to-six week window before departure. Further out can cost more, and closer in can cost a lot more. There are some deals way in advance, but in general prices are highest eight to 10 weeks and two to three weeks in advance.
Many companies use social networking as an exclusive way to promote huge fare reductions (MoneyMix June). These sales sometimes don't even show up on an airline's website. Today’s airfare search motto is more relevant than ever: “Be prepared.” Carefully plan what dates and times you can fly, and understand that today’s airfare is just a small part of the cost of flying unless you’ve researched the ever-changing a la carte system of purchased amenities. You’ll save money by deciding in advance how you will purchase your ticket (you can avoid fees by booking directly at an airline’s website), choose your seat, change your ticket if needed, check your bags, and even arrange to eat a snack in flight. For more information, read “Timing the Market for Airline Tickets” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.