Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Eternal Quest for (Cheap) Flight

Airborne in Style with Cathay Pacific

Some of my friends have scored inexpensive tickets recently, so I had high hopes for Outside's recent tips for finding cheap flights. Unfortunately, the article turned out to be website-filler that was posted mainly to generate some traffic. There may have been a couple of less-than-shiny nuggets of information worth gleaning, like airline Twitter feeds sometimes offer flash-fares deals (time for me to get a Twitter account?) or that it's often best to purchase tickets on Tuesday because that's when new fares are generally published, but everything else was relatively pedestrian (pun sort-of intended): who couldn't figure out that it may be beneficial to be flexible with travel dates or airports?

There was no mention of Yapta, which not only tracks flight prices but may also be able to provide a refund if the price drops after you purchase tickets. Nor was there anything about Kayak's recently instituted price forecasting feature.  And how about a reference to mileage earning credit cards? Nothing new there, but surely Outside's well-traveled staff must have reached some consensus on what the best cards are. (If you're looking for input on that, try this U.S. News & World Report article, whose high opinion of the Starwoods Preferred Amex card seems to be held by many, including me.)  

While I'm no expert on the topic of inexpensive flights, I have a couple of minor suggestions. One thing I've noticed is that on short-hop flights in smaller planes it may make sense *not* to check your bag in advance. On a few of my flights last year, I saw other flyers toting sizable carry-ons that had no hope of being wedged into the miniscule overhead storage bins. They were then asked to "gate-check" the bags, either at the gate or on the tarmac, before boarding the plane. It seemed like this was a pretty good way to avoid paying the ridiculous first bag fee if you're only bringing one bag: treat it like a carry-on even if you know it will end up as checked luggage. Not sure if it works consistently though - airlines can charge for overweight gate-check bags, as discussed in this article. But unless the airline charges more for a gate-checked bag, it makes sense to wait. At worst you'll just be in the position you would have originally been in (paying the ridiculous checked bag fee). Of course, if you anticipate gate-checking the bag, don't put anything irreplaceable in it.

Another short-flight small plane technique that I inadvertently stumbled upon was booking a seat right behind the emergency exit row. On several of my flights those seats turned out to be unoccupied, probably because the airline charged an extra fee for reserving these roomier seats. Consequently whoever was in the aisle seat right behind the exit row was moved into the row free-of-charge because someone needs to sit there in case of emergency. So whether I was in the aisle or window seat of the row behind, I ended up with extra room. Obviously I wouldn't count on this if you're desperate for a seat in the emergency row - if the flight is full, you're out of luck - but if you're indifferent to seat placement, try booking right behind that row and you might luck out.

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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.