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Top Ten Secrets of Air Travel Insiders

November 5, 2007 | Posted in: Airfare News,Airline News,Deals,Travel Tips
Ready to be surprised?

Read the real insider secrets. These really shouldn’t be secrets because every air travel shopper show know them — I know shopping for airfare can be maddening — I was just back from a travel CEO conference and studies show that “you” the consumer shop 5-6 websites before you buy.

Let me take some of the mystery out of making the best air travel buying decision

I have boiled down dozens of my tips from studying air travel and corresponding with thousands one-on-one, these tips will help you make the best buying decision.

There are an awful lot of unreliable “top 10″ lists floating around the internet these days that claim to tell you the “useful secrets” of air travel, or “things the airlines don’t want you to know.” Well, know this: most of these lists are not very well researched nor are they (many times) on the mark.


Oh, they’ll include a “good” tip now and then, but for the most part, these lists are riddled with errors. Where can you find the real story? From FareCompare.com, of course — without further ado here are our top ten tips (mostly U.S. domestic focused — those traveling internationally should also check out our list of international travel tips):

TOP 10 SECRETS OF AIR TRAVEL INSIDERS
1. Fly the Cheapest Days of the Week – The cheapest day to fly is Wednesday

  • After Wednesday, the cheapest days to book departures/arrivals are Tuesday and Saturday. Airlines actually file cheaper airfares that are only good on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday

2. Fly Cheap Airlines – The proper term is, “lower-cost carriers” or “no-frills” (like there are any frills nowadays)

  • Check with Southwest, AirTran, JetBlue, Virgin America, Skybus, Frontier, Allegiant, etc.; prices are usually cheaper (not always though) than the “majors” especially at the last minute. The reason? Most have a lower business cost structure and in theory pass that on to you — they do usually drive the price point lower in competitive markets but are not always the cheapest, so don’t forget their legacy brethren when shopping.

3. Fly Cheap Foreign Airlines – Especially, once you’re on foreign soil

  • There are lots of cheap European airlines that fly all over the EU; an example is Dublin-based Ryanair. Fly to Ireland on the cheapest airline you can find, then use inexpensive Ryanair as your carrier throughout Europe. A pretty complete list of lower cost airlines can be found on Momondo. Warning: you will have to change airports in many cases, so not for the less fleet of foot or those taking their closet to Europe.

4. Fly First Class at Economy Class Prices – Buy discount Domestic U.S./Canada First Class Airfare

  • You can find this information in a few places, but FareCompare.com (we track over 130,000 of them) has an easy “how to” section called “Discount First Class“. Sometimes these discounted first class fares are as cheap as coach, sometimes not. They will always be a great bargain compared to full first class.

5. Be Flexible – Ask For Vacation Days After You Find Cheap Flights

  • If you are willing to be flexible (rather than shoe-horning yourself into a particular vacation week), you can save big. Try FareCompare’s Airfare Email Alerts and be notified hours before they show up on the actual airline site — being first to know gives you a better changes to get a great deal to your dream destination.
  • Airlines have been studying consumer shopping and travel patterns for years and will charge you a premium at the days and times they know you want go — so don’t go with the flow, fly the cheapest days, fly to off the beaten path destinations or be prepared to pay the premium, just knowing that you know that they know will help you make a better buying decision

6. Fly the Big Hubs – Usually – A bigger airport can mean bigger savings.

  • If you’re in a medium to small sized city, it may pay to drive to the nearest big-city and fly from there; if you’re in Los Angeles, LAX is usually cheaper than Burbank. Competition drives prices down — the more competition the better the prices
  • WARNING: this isn’t true everywhere; if you live in Cincinnati, for example, it can be cheaper to fly out of Dayton or Columbus (Delta’s dominance in Cincinnati means little competition and higher prices).
  • International Travel can be hundreds less at a gateway than a nearby regional airport (you have to connect their anyway) so save $1,000 for your family of four and make the drive instead of paying the small regional airport premium for that connecting commuter flight

7. You Can Save on Last Minute Emergency Flights – Always ask

  • Traveling to a funeral? Check to see if the airlines have a “bereavement” rate. If they don’t, call and ask. Some airlines will work with you on this.
  • Look for “package” deals: some airlines’ last minute deals include a hotel and car to your destination, which is cheaper than last minute airfare by itself. You do not have to stay in the motel or take the car (but call and cancel what you won’t use) — these package rates many time use negotiated rates that are no so great 14 days before travel but are really good at the last minute.

8. Yes, You Can Get Refunds – Sometimes – Persistence and patience pays off

9. Forget Rule 240. All the experts fall for this one

  • Some “travel gurus” suggest “Rule 240″ will somehow force airlines to immediately get you on the next plane in the event of delays/cancellations; there is also a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to show you…
  • The Truth: There is no Rule 240! It disappeared with deregulation in the 70′s. What we rely on now for our rights (such as they are) is an airline’s Contract or Conditions of Carriage; and most “guarantee” nothing, but offer some guidance on what an airline will “try ” to do for you. Here’s a list of the airlines’ contracts of carriage. They may be useful, so print them and take them on your trip.
  • Best advice in the face of cancellations/delays? Be nice. The harried airline rep at the counter is having just as lousy a time as you are, and you’d be surprised how far some kind words can go. You don’t want them to get angry with you.

10. The Only 2-Websites You Need. Honest. FareCompare.com and a the final ticketing site (airline or online travel agency)

  • FareCompare: use it to find airlines’ cheapest airfares; its exclusive software allows you to find the cheapest flights before any other site can.
  • Ticketing Site: after you find your cheap tickets on FareCompare, we will take you to the best purchasing site (you should also check out Southwest, the only major airline that doesn’t provide airfare information to any outside website).

31 Responses to “Top Ten Secrets of Air Travel Insiders”

  1. Tom Courtney says:

    Why does the taxes and fees vary so much between airlines? I try to book overseas flights and taxes and fees can range from $80 to over $300. Also, farecompare shows me a cheap price but when I try to book it, it always says the airline has raised the price. What gives??

  2. HARRY says:

    “Discount First Class” link will get you nowhere.

  3. Cliff Jennings says:

    Hi Rick

    I found this on the AA website about Rule 240
    http://www.aa.com/content/agency/Booking_Ticketing/Reaccom/rule_240_80.jhtml

    It seems to read as there is a rule 240

    What do you think??

    Cliff Jennings

  4. Alan Keith Bricker says:

    For once, an honest web site designed to help potential airline passengers actually save money. Rickseaney.com is definitely worth a look.

  5. shelly says:

    The link to Discount First Class is not working. It says “page not found”

  6. Rick Seaney says:

    Sorry all — I have fixed the discount first class link

  7. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi Cliff, comment #3

    Some legacy airlines like United and American, refer to the old “240″ name as it existed before 1978 in their contract of carriage, as I mentioned in the post, but the language for the most part has been watered down from the original when this was a government defined rule, which it is not any more. The airlines decide their own policy (in the contract of carriage) as passengers in the domestic U.S. do not currently have a passenger bill of rights (like those in the European Union), although New York State passed something akin recently and consumer advocates groups have been putting on the heat recently.

    In most contracts of carriage, yes, they have some part of the spirit of the rule, which is we’ll get you on next available flight (ours first then someone else’s), but each airline is different (there is not one rule) and each airlines practice on implementing their own contract rules varies widely from airport to airport…

    Know your rights and be firm but nice with gate agents and you’ll get the best results.

  8. Nick says:

    Rick,
    You are so right about gate agents. I worked for a “major” as a gate agent for over 5 years.
    Believe me, those guys WANT to help you. If for nothing else, just to get you out of their hair. But please don’t confuse them with soul-less robots.
    They are very compassionate to the situation, and to tell you the truth, it makes them feel good to help someone who is stranded so far from their home.
    BUT…like you said, be nice. They themselves did not put you in that situation. If you treat them like they are to blame, and owe you something for it…they will shut down and not WANT to help.
    You don’t need an enemy so far from home. You need to realize…they might be your ONLY friend. Treat them like crap, and they will do for you only what they MUST, and not what they CAN.
    Who wouldn’t???

  9. John Wharton says:

    ALERT:
    While on a tranfer of planes/stopover, Shanghai International recently required my wife and I to not only go thru the Bird Flu Isolation Station and question booth, we also had to gather our bags and go thru customs and then go up 3 levels to recheck into the United Airline counter for our flight to Chicago.
    We had 1hr 45min between flights but United closed ticket counter closed completely 50 minutes before departure so counter staff could be used for the planing process. So, we missed our connection and United refused to automatically rebook us on the next Chicago flight(1xdaily at 3:45PM) and also refused to get us overnight acomodations or even give us directions to an overnight hotel. We were on our own; and very few airport personnel spoke English and the directional signage was pretty much non-existent.
    These were some of the rudest United counter people we have ever encountered. RECOMMENDATION: If possible avoid Shanghai International for connection/transfer flights and by all means, if you are on a United flight, be aware that these are some really hard case rude people in Shanghai.

  10. Mala Mukunda says:

    I agree with the myth of from flying big hubs being cheaper. Sometimes, not only are the fares higher, if you do not have
    a ride to the airport, the means of getting there can be pretty expensive.
    Surprised to read about 240, thought that was my ticket to first class!
    Mala Mukunda
    http://www.traveling-stories-magazine.com/

  11. james says:

    These aren’t secrets. It’s overstating the obvious.

    Also most discount fares and low cost carriers are far cheaper than a bereavement fare. “Drive to a big airport” is logical, but every trip has it’s own circumstances.

    I frequently fly to Chicago and drive to Michigan – but in the winter I’ll gladly pay $100 more, avoid renting a car and potential bad roads to fly right to my destination.

    “”Fly cheap airlines?” Profound. How about “Sunny days are nice?”

  12. cybele says:

    While I agree with the example that LAX is often cheaper for the actual fare than Burbank or Long Beach, the fact that their parking rates (or my transpo costs for a shuttle) are cheaper can make it about the same. If it’s about the same, I’m going to opt for an airport that’s a little more civilized.

  13. james says:

    By the way #2 – fly cheap airlines isn’t limited to the Low Cost Carriers. In Denver UAL matches Frontier on many routes, and their e-fares are inexpensive as well.

    Also if you’re going low cost know what your buying. Skybus with it’s heavy resrictions and no customer service – (and self transferred hub baggage) is a hell lot different than jetBlue or Frontier – which I don’t even consider “low cost carriers” even though they brand themselves as such.

    For every price point you take off there’s tradeoffs – and that should be acknowledged or addressed.

  14. james says:

    By the way if I may pick apart this laughable list even more: “Bereavement Fares” are as antiquated as rotary phones and cassette tape answering machines. A walk up on most airlines is cheaper, and the pricing structure on airlines such as Southwest and Frontier are far far cheaper than a legacy’s bereavement.

    Also #10? The ONLY two sites you need and one just happens to be yours?? Come on. Kayak and many others are great sites for “fare comparing” – and it’s all up to preference.

    And again – price should NEVER be the only factor when considering an airfare. Look what happened to the people that booked ski vacations to Whistler on Skybus – who abrubtly exited the Seattle/Vancouver market.

  15. Rick Seaney says:

    My My James, comment #13 & #14,
     
    Are we a bit testy …
     
    Where do I begin to pick apart your comments …
     
    In regards to you comment on #2 – I guess you didn’t bother to read and I quote “they do usually drive the price point lower in competitive markets but are not always the cheapest, so don’t forget their legacy brethren when shopping
     
    You are dead wrong on “bereavement airfares” — it never hurts to ask on bereavement airfares, many times the airline agent — or your favorite travel agent — is empowered or can request the waving of advance purchase restrictions on cheaper published airfares, so it is not necessarily the “bereavement airfare” per se but your chat with the agent who might have an open ear that can be fruitful — you go right ahead right ahead and pay the walkup rate — me I’ll ask a couple of agents first.
     
    Last minute I also always check or ask for a quote of the discounted Y-UP first class airfare, so if I do have to pay out the nose I might get first class a bit cheaper than walkup coach.
     
    In regards it to tip #10, it’s my blog and I’ll plug our site when I see fit – I mention others all the time … You gave the others a plug so there you go ..
     
    If you want to put your 2 cents on the topic of “Is Price the Only Factor” check out the comments in this lively post from a while back (the comments would seem to refute your premise that price is not the only factor) …
     

  16. Brandon says:

    ‘Bereavement Fares are as antiquated as rotary phones and cassette tape answering machines.’

    Don’t be so sure. Recently I had to quickly find a flight to attend a funeral. Many of the major airlines have gotten rid of them, but I got what I felt was a fair deal from United on a bereavement fare and at a better price than Southwest or others had to offer. They treated me very well.

  17. Rick Seaney says:

    Definitely Brandon, contrary to popular belief there are humans at the other end of the line at airlines and they do listen from time to time and are willing to help if so empowered.

  18. james says:

    I’m not testy – I just don’t find these “insider” tips that compelling or profound. And even a novice traveler knows “fly cheap airlines”

    But I do appreciate your excellent pun:

    You are dead wrong on bereavement airfares

  19. Audrey says:

    I don’t think it’s true that rule 240 doesn’t exist anymore, at least on Northwest. I used it a couple of months ago and the agent knew what I was talking about and put me on another airline when my flight was canceled on Northwest. Not sure if it’s changed since then, but I know it did exist pretty recently. so not sure how accurate these tips are.

  20. Net says:

    Audrey, 240 really does not exist anymore. However, when people who pretend to “know how it works” bring up 240, most agents will just do whatever it takes to get rid of you simply because those people (you know, those who are so sure they know everything about everything and quote antiquated rules) out of their face. I suspect that Audrey’s experience had more to do with getting rid of her than the fact that it is still a rule.

  21. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi Audrey, #19
     
    The watered down spirit of the long gone “Rule 240″ is in each airlines contract of carriage — which addresses issues with “at fault” delays and cancellations — as I said some contracts actually use the old “long gone” name as a title (I’ll never figure out why some number is better than a description, but so be it).
     
    Each airline is different so you have to look at the section in the links each airline (posted at the bottom of the article)

  22. JC says:

    I’ll be flying from Canada to Asia due to a relative who passed away.
    Isn’t it cheaper to use travel agents than to go straight to the airline’s ticketing office?

    Would an airline drop the price and make it cheaper than an agent/broker if they knew you were traveling for bereavement reasons?

  23. JC says:

    Rick,
    The link “RSS feed for comments on this post” doesn’t seem to work.

    Please advise.

  24. Otto Bear says:

    Last minute bereavement fares worked for us.
    We called American as they were the only ones to listen to us. Showed up in Toronto after driving 2 hours. Brought all the information with us. Hospital, time of day he died, doctor’s phone number, time of death, anything to prove our case which helped greatly.
    We flew out within an hour. What we paid essentially was 2 for 1. I don’t know how American did it but it is possible.

  25. EMILY DEAN says:

    I WAS LOOKING TO BOOK A CHEAP FARE ON SKYBUS, BUT THEIR
    BOOKING CALENDAR ENDED AT MAY 31,2007. WHY ARE DATES NOT AVAILABLE FOR A YEAR IN ADVANCE AS WITH MOST AIRLINES?

  26. Romie Bourne says:

    WOW James – lighten up. Rick is trying to help us all and doing all the leg work that none of us have time to do. If you can do it better or have more “inside information” then maybe you should start your own website. And by the way, bereavement fares are alive and well. I took advantage recently when my grandmother died and the airline was amazing.

  27. Eric says:

    Excellent info. Thank you so much!
    I have a question… I’m in the market for a one way from PDX to ATL. 1st class. I have found that I can get a ticket from PDX to BWI (Baltimore) with a connection IN ATL (Atlanta) for HALF the price of a PDX to ATL ticket alone! It’s the very same flight as the first leg of the PDX to BWI flight, only they are calling it “non-stop” now… Will I get in trouble if I book PDX to BWI, but not catch the 2nd leg to Baltimore? It’s HALF the price! Same Flight! I wouldn’t be checking bags, just carry on… Have you ever heard of this ?
    Thanks for any info.

  28. Eric says:

    Hi again. I asked a question earlier about the PDX to BWI flight. Iím sorry if it was inappropriate, I wasnít trying to be, just curious and confused.

    Still puzzled.

  29. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi Eric,

    This is called “Hidden City” and is frowned upon by airlines. Agents that book these types of tickets can get in trouble. See this from American Airlines:
    AA.com http://www.aa.com/content/agency/Booking_Ticketing/Ticketing/hidden_city_ltr.jhtml

    This also falls into the category of something similar called back-to-back ticketing to get around Saturday night stay rules:

    http://rickseaney.com/2008/08/27/dont-get-caught-by-high-minimum-stay-airline-ticket-pricing/
    http://rickseaney.com/2008/05/28/theyre-back-saturday-night-stay-over-airfares-and-how-to-avoid-them/

    Both are frowned upon, but since you are your own travel agent on-line you have to make the call.

    Rick

  30. Eric says:

    Thank you so much for your help, again.

  31. gt says:

    re: bereavement comment posted from James back in 2007, It’s already 2009 and I would like to post my respond for future viewers.

    The “bereavement” rate is true.
    I work in medical field and I have encountered few patients requesting clearance from doctor to fly/requesting early refill on their med due to death in the family. They mentioned that the airlines just need to see “death certificate” to be able to get the special rate.

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