On-line special fares and services

Last modified: 2016/02/10
Airlines often offer special fares or promotions to Internet users, and there are some other specialist outfits selling tickets on-line.

Special fare newsletters and sites

Orbitz
Smarter Travel collects weekly specials from selected major cities and both puts them on their web site and e-mails them to mailing lists. You can sign up for the cities you're interested in flying from, as well as general newsletters about travel deals.

Also see their companion site Airfare Watchdog which has a fine compendium of low fares by city, with useful suggestions for nearby cities that might have lower fares.

Travelzoo offers a gazillion different services including a weekly Top 20 Deals newsletter and a meta-meta-search in which you tell it the cities and dates, and they offer links to sites you might want to search. (Selection surely not affected by how much commission they pay.)

Travelocity has a Travel Deals page that often has private fares, two-for-one deals, and the like.

Bootsnall has lists of cheap flights that include some interesting deals.

Tripbuzz finds activities near any given location. Check it out the next time you're trapped in a motel room on an unexpectedly rainy day.

Ticket auctions and the like

Priceline sells tickets over the web using a peculiar system sort of like an auction. You tell them where and when you want to go and how much you're willing to pay. You have to be prepared to go at any time of day, on any major domestic airline or one of a list of international ones, and to accept a stop or change of plane. You tell them what you're willing to pay, along with credit card info. If they find a ticket at that price, you've bought it and can't change or refund it (like most any low-price ticket.) Flights must originate in the U.S., or via an affiliate, in the U.K.

If they have a ticket available at or below your bid, they'll sell it to you, but you don't know if you're getting the best price. They'll charge what you offered even if the carrier would have accepted less, and they make it difficult to offer increasing bids. They now offer seats on many the major US airlines and international airlines. except A lot of reports, including articles in the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, and the Wall Street Journal, say that in practice bids for lower than published prices are rarely accepted, and they admit that they accept less than 10% of the bids people make, although they do sell 15,000 tickets a day. They now also offer normal tickets where you know the price and the flights ahead of time. I don't see any reason to buy from them rather than anyone else, but this does at least tell you what the list price is so you don't bid any higher than that.

I haven't ever bought a ticket through Priceline, but would welcome more reports from people who have. (I tried to get a NYC hotel room one time, they turned down all my offers, but I've heard from at least one person who got a room at a nice Boston hotel for about half the normal price.) The idea of auctioning left-over tickets is a good one, and it's a shame if it can't be put into practice. If you're planning to travel on a route well-served by one of the airlines listed above, and can fly at any time of day, try bidding slightly less than the best fare you can find on one of the regular reservation sites or Hotwire and see if they take it. Otherwise, you're better off with a agent who knows about unpublished fares, many of whom are listed in subsequent sections of this FAQ.

Hotwire is a sort of competitor to Priceline now owned by InterActive Corp which owns Expedia and Hotels.com. You tell them where you want to go, what dates, and a few conditions such as no red-eye, and they offer you a price. Unlike Priceline they tell you what price you'll pay and have an hour to decide before you buy it. Like Priceline, you don't get to know the times and airline until you buy the tickets. Hotwire is another good place to check for last minute tickets. It hasn't yet ever offered me a ticket I wanted to buy, but considering that I fly from Ithaca NY, not exactly a hotbed of airline competition, I can't say I'm surprised. Flights must originate in the U.S., but you can fly internationally. They also sell hotels and rental cars on the same basis; I've gotten some good rental car deals all of which have turned out to be from Budget.

SkyAuction, in contrast to Priceline and Hotwire, auctions off tickets and travel packages using a "second bid" scheme similar to what eBay and other online auctioneers use. (The best strategy is to bid the maximum you're willing to pay, since if you win you'll pay just enough to beat the runner up regardless of what your maximum was.) The descriptions of what they're selling are quite concrete, and you can see what the competing bids are. Tickets are offered in small lots, you can end up with fewer tickets than you asked for unless you make a bid "all or nothing". Be sure to add in the often large service charge for each ticket, and be sure you know what normal fares are since tickets are often bid up above published fares. I've bought tickets to London through them, their service was prompt and efficient, but I've seen reports that it is very difficult to get a refund if there's a problem with the flights.

General auction sites often have airline tickets available. You can find them in "Miscellaneous:Travel" at eBay. Many of the tickets offered appear either to be frequent flyer tickets, which the airline will confiscate if they can tell that you bought them, or dubious deals where the air tickets are "free" if you buy an expensive vacation package. There do seem to be a few transferrable bump certificates, and quite a few ancillary items like drink coupons.

Site 59 offers last minute weekend travel packages. They all include air and hotel, but the price is often lower than what you'd otherwise pay for air only (Travelocity's "last minute deals" are really Site59.)

Individual airlines

Air Canada has weekly Websaver special fares.

Airtran has weekend specials. Double frequent flyer credit for specials purchased on-line. (Actually worth something, since six round trips earn a free ticket.) Also an e-mail newsletter you can sign up for on the site that announces weekly specials.

Alaska Airlines has web special fares.

American Airlines has weekly mailing lists for ``Net SAAver fares'', otherwise unadvertised specials from Chicago or Dallas, as well as some hotel packages. Visit their web page and click on specials on the toolbar at the top.

American Trans Air has ``net fares'', special fares available only on their web site.

America West has Surf'n'Go weekly specials and Quick Trips air/land package specials.

Austrian Airlines has weekly lists of specials, with occasional web-only last minute specials.

Cathay Pacific Airlines has regular web specials. Currently there's a $759 special from Newark to Hong Kong for flights in March and April, buy by 23 September. Book online

Finnair has occasional seat auctions.

Jetblue has Cheeps published every Tuesday on their web site and by Twitter.

Lufthansa's US site has occasional Web specials and live seat auctions. Sign up for mailing list to find out when they are.

Malaysia Airlines offers RT from the USA west coast to Kuala Lumpur and 30 days of travel within Asia for $747 plus tax, a very attractive deal. (East coast residents should look at the similar Cathay Pacific offer.)

South African Airways occasional seat auctions.

Southwest with weekly specials. Also there's a package specials list with special deals if you sign their guest book and answer a bunch of nosy questions.

Sun Country has weekly on-line ``Cy-Fly'' specials.

United has E-Fares specials for members of their Milage Plus program posted every Wednesday, also by e-mail. (Signup info on their web site.) Choose E-Fares from the menu on the home page. You have to sign in but it's free.

US Airways has an "e-savers" mailing list with weekly special fares from (and occasionally to) their hub cities. Web site also has Internet-only special fares to and from Baltimore and Washington, with extra frequent flyer miles.



PLEASE NOTE: I am not a travel agent, just an interested traveller. Everything I know about on-line travel info is in this FAQ. Don't write or call me asking for fare quotes, packages, or any other travel agent info, because I don't have it.


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