By the Seat of Your Pants
by W. Blake Gray
People often ask how I travel so much on a writer's salary. The answer is that I'm cheap in the right areas. And frankly, airplane fares aren't one.
Don't get me wrong — I don't waste my airline dollars. I always travel coach and usually get the cheapest direct fare available at the time, regardless of airline.
But I don't obsess over getting the cheapest fare possible, ever. I know people, and I'm sure you do too, who spend part of every day reading about travel deals, cooing over $200 specials to London. Most of them rarely go anywhere.
I don't subscribe to any flight special newsletters. What good is a $399 fare to Stockholm if I don't have the time off or the inclination to go?
Instead, when I decide where I'm going, I do the following.
First, I go to the major Internet travel sites. Expedia is my favorite because you can search without registering, but Travelocity is acceptable also. I input my intended flight and see what price they offer.
I don't use priceline.com, or other sites where you name the price and the airline decides to match it (or not). The reason is you have no control over your itinerary. They can, and will, send you from Baltimore to Miami via Detroit and Des Moines.
Second, I call a local budget travel agent and see what price she offers for the same flight. Sometimes it's much cheaper.
When using travel agents, I look for ones who specialize in their specific regions. There's a San Francisco agent who gets me better fares to Tokyo than I've been offered anywhere else. I found it in the phone book, because its name is Travel Tokyo.
Look in the travel section of your local newspaper for ads from "bucket shops" — ticket brokers who sell extremely cheap tickets. Be aware that most of these tickets, once purchased, allow no changes.
I never call the airlines about fares. Airlines release lower-priced tickets to travel agents, including Internet travel agents, than they sell themselves. They figure that if you call them directly, you're a businessperson who absolutely has to go, and they can charge whatever they like.
For three more tips on tickets
How to Save On Hotels
How to Pack Lightly
Your Rights in Flight
Where to Find Travel Insurance
Taming Travel Stress
Eat Right On the Run
Don't Wait — Travel Now
The Ultimate Vacation
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