#4: GO DIRECTLY TO AIRLINE WEBSITES
That said, if you found an eye-popping deal on a search engine that utilizes multiple carriers, take it—the hassle of pricing individual flights in a multiple-leg, multiple-carrier itinerary will drive you batty, to say nothing of accidentally landing in New York’s JFK Airport when you fly out of La Guardia in 15 minutes.
Travelers can plug in international trips of two weeks or less up to six months in advance. FareCompare.com is also worth consulting; it displays a calendar showing which days offer the lowest fares on specific routes. Just want to keep an eye on which airlines are offering sales and specials, visit Smartertravel.com
While the Internet is an essential tool, don’t forget that good travel agents have access to consolidator fares and can also help save you money on flights.
Skyauction.com is another excellent auction site for air and hotel packages, hotel nights in Italy's major cities and coach and business class airline tickets. Sky Auction also has a “Buy It Now” option; for instance, purchase up to eight roundtrip tickets between Rome and New York for $475 each (plus taxes and fuel surcharge of $270). That’s a great deal but additional surcharges apply depending on the dates of travel (all of this is explained on the bidding page);
A new breed of search engine has cropped up in the past few years: the aggregator site. Sites like Qixo, Kayak, and SideStep search a whole flock of search engines as well as airline sites themselves. Why go the extra step? Many of the budget airlines that have great inexpensive fares, like Southwest, don’t do business with consolidators like Travelocity, so by searching only those sites, you’re missing half the market. Our favorite is Mobissimo, which on multiple comparisons brought up the lowest fares most quickly.
Okay, so you’re not planning on circumnavigating the earth anytime soon, but how about a little continental perambulation? There are plenty of smaller-scale deals with specific airlines and alliances that can save you tons on intra-continental travel. For example, the Star Alliance, a group of 16 airlines, including United, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, and Air Canada, offers discounted air passes for Europe, North America, Asia, and the South Pacific, among others. Passengers buy between three and ten coupons starting at $65 each, which are then redeemable for single-segment flights between any of the alliance’s destinations in the given region. Similar deals are also available within certain countries, with deals on international airfare and a set number of intra-country flights. For example, Qantas, in association with Tourism Australia, currently offers international airfare and three domestic flights for prices starting at $999, far cheaper than any other DIY pricing available. The best way to track down packages like this is to check the websites of the national airlines or the country’s tourism website, easily accessible via Google.
Buy your ticket well in advance. Most airlines discount tickets are purchased 7, 14, or 21 days before the departure dates.
LAST-MINUTE SEATS FOR SALE
Airtech targets a similarly flexible demographic as courier agencies, but puts passengers on empty or standby seats at the last minute. If you’re flexible with your dates and destinations, you can get pretty sweet deals, like a flight to Europe for about $200. First, buy a FlightPass for travel between certain regions, say the U.S. and Europe, with a departure window of two to four days. When a flight comes up to your preferred destination, you’ll get a call. If it fits you desires and interests, you head to the airport and redeem your pass for the tickets. Think of it as the budget traveler’s way of flying on standby. One intrepid traveler used Airtech to get home to Greece for the 2004 Olympics. She got the call—a flight to Amsterdam from Washington, D.C., for around $200—and headed out that afternoon. After a leisurely day in the Netherlands, she hopped a train south to Athens and reached her destination for half of what it would’ve cost had she flown direct. Plus she got to go to Amsterdam. But if you need to be in a certain city at a certain time, Airtech ain’t for you.