In a hotly competitive travel market, families can economize with cheap airfares and leave staycations to those who won't do the research.In a hotly competitive travel market, families can economize with cheap airfares and leave staycations to those who won't do the research.
In this economy (frequently seen as ITE for those who text with kids and colleagues), everyone is looking for cheap airfares, especially families, who need to buy a multiple of any offer in order to vacation together. According to the experts at the site Airfarewatchdog.com, finding affordable airfare in 2009 can be a real challenge.
Many air carriers are moving toward a-la-carte pricing structures, asking travelers to pay for drinks, food, seat selection, extra bags and more. Families have to factor in added expenses such as off-site airport parking or group public transportation to their departure point, plus snacks and beverages for every family member. Parents can economize by assigning kids their own small carry-on suitcases. Bring healthy snacks from home and ask each family member to carry their own water bottle, which can be brought through the Security checkpoints empty then refilled at the gate. It's not only a big cost-saver, it's also the environmentally friendly thing to do.
Tips: Pre-Flight & Airport Waits
Kids get restless easily. During the long waits for security and boarding, it's almost impossible for them to resist the siren call of flashy gift shops throughout America's largest airport terminals. There are some no-cost things to do in airports, however, such as paying a visit to the children's play area which many terminals keep stocked with climbing equipment and video monitors. Check out FTF's Guide to Long Layovers for information about the most fun termals.
Visit Brookstone shops and other vendors who allow customers to sample tech toys and many other tools and travel gadgets on sale. Stop by InMotion Entertainment's DVD Rental kiosks or Altitunes stores, where travelers can download free movie trailers, hit songs and podcasts, such as Family Travel Forum's "How to Plan the Best Family Vacation."
Major international airports usually have a branch of the local tourist office where families can pick up brochures and maps to study up on the region they are visiting.
Adults can also help children learn the value of money. Frequent-traveling FTF staffers suggest being firm about a designated allowance for each child during vacation, so that any "must-have" souvenirs are paid for from their own allowance. On foreign trips, be sure to visit a Currency Exchange Booth so that everyone in the family can study up on how far their dollar (or whatever currency) you use, will go in the new destination.
Tips for Finding Cheap Airfares
George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog, an airfare deal site that lists hand-picked low airfares from online travel agencies and airline sites, outlines some of his top airfare tips for 2009, "designed to help travelers navigate the ever-changing world of airfare bargain hunting."
Keep in mind that these tips were offered in the spring of 2009, during a very volatile time ITE as well as in the airline business. With Delta promising to reduce its already slimmed-down schedule by another 10% by October of 2009, and many other airlines following suit, bankruptcy rumblings from Frontier and money woes at all the carriers, it looks like reduced airlift and smaller aircraft may drive prices higher again, despite the greatly reduced number of passengers aloft.
Following are tips that make sense in any economy.
• Look for Promo Codes: Airlines are increasingly offering promotion codes. Discounts range from $10 to 50% off published fares.
• Sign Up for RSS Feeds and e-News: To get promo codes, sign up for the airlines' frequent flyer programs and newsletters. These fares are never listed on other popular travel sites.
• Stay Alert: Watch out for surprising sales that sometimes appear on Saturdays and holiday weekends. For competitive reasons, airlines often sneak in the very best unadvertised sales when they think the competition isn't watching.
• Search, Search, Search: Search for fares throughout the day, several times a day. Fares go up and down throughout the day, so if you don't like what you see at 10am, come back later and search again.
• Families Can Reserve Seats: Seat availability can also change throughout the day, so check often. If you can't seat everyone together, grab as many window and aisle seats as you can; they're easy to trade with single business travelers so you can sit in the same row as your kids.
• Use consolidators: Major airlines turn over unsold seats to consolidators in larger increments as the flight date approaches. International business- and first-class fares are usually the best deals. ITE, business- and first-class cabins are likely to be emptier in 2009, and deals could be amazing. Consolidators specializing in premium cabins are likely to have some great deals, and airlines will probably heavily discount their premium cabins, so check their website specials. Do a Google search for "first-class consolidators" to see some of the firms in this space.
Let the Experts Share their Strategies
Carl Schwartz, Chief Travel Officer of Cheapflights.com, a comparison airfare site, reminds travelers that enhanced search tools and social media sites like Twitter, where airlines can tweet airfare deals to their followers in real time, have created greater transparency in airfare pricing. He suggests families begin searching for flights using the Cheapflights.com flexible dates tool, as airfares can drop (or rise) by a great deal if booking travel a day or two earlier or later. He notes that the cheapest days to fly are usually Monday and Tuesday, because of demand, making the week-long trip the best deal.
According to Schwartz, between five and 12 weeks prior to departure there's a "bubble" where travelers can see what deals will be available during their booking window. Booking too early means a deal may not yet be posted; however, he adds that the best time to find last minute deals is about 10 to 14 days prior to departure. Unused inventory is sold at a discount to the airline's own customer prior to being given to consolidators for last minute fare sales.
Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal's "Middle Seat" column suggests checking airline websites between Monday and Wednesday, as many new fares are released then and families are more likely to find a sale "while supplies last" if they book early. In his experience, fares are cheapest on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoon when demand is lowest. His favorite cheap fare search engine is powered by ITA Software (inventors of the Kayak.com metasearch site).
In general, he starts his searches by visiting Orbitz.com, which we agree has the simplest interface to use when scouting prices, to determine what the ballpark fare is to his chosen destination. Then he will use a flight comparison shopping site like Kayak.com to see likely ticket prices if he flies a more inconvenient routing, such as one with multiple stops en route, or ending at a secondary airport in the vicinity.
Airfarewatchdog's Hobica sums it up. "It really is impossible to accurately predict where airfares will go in 2009," he admits. "If I knew, I'd also know where oil is heading, and in that case, I'd be a wealthy man."
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