TIPS FOR SAVING ON FLIGHTS – Airlines say the internet has made pricing transparent and air travel is a bargain. Consumer advocates and lawmakers counter that comparing fees for things like baggage and extra legroom – a growing part of the cost of a trip – can be difficult, especially when travelers don’t buy their ticket directly from the airline.

No changes are coming in the short-term, leaving travelers to plot their own strategies for dining the best prices. As always, it helps to plan ahead and consider whether you need extra services that might add to your cost.

Some old strategies are losing value due to changes in the way airlines operate.

The notion that Wednesday (or Tuesday) is the best day to buy your ticket isn’t always true anymore. As more airlines base loyalty programs on how much you spend, not how many miles you fly, it has become harder for many leisure travelers to earn free flights.

Here are five tips from travel experts:

  • Know what comes with your seat by reading the fine print on the airline website. A cheap ticket that doesn’t include checked baggage might not be such a bargain.
  • Delta Airlines (and soon American Airlines and United Airlines) has a lower “basic economy” fare. “It looks cheap, but it’s got a whole bunch of restrictions on it,” says Patric Surry, the chief date scientist at Hopper, a travel research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s impossible to change it, you don’t get a seat assignment, and you can’t pay to upgrade. It’s buyer beware-you need to do your homework.”
  • Be flexible with dates and destinations. Flying to tourist destinations will almost certainly be cheaper and less crowded in September or even August than in July. That is of little help, however, to families with school-age children.
  • Check the budget airlines. For example, if you’re flying to Europe this year, Iceland’s WOW air and Norwegian Air Shuttle have added routes across the Atlantic.

“They may not be the most convenient or comfortable, but they may offer some attractive savings,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst in San Francisco. He cautions that travelers wanting lots of optional services may find it’s cheaper to stick with the older, more familiar airlines.

  • If you haven’t done so yet, follow the Twitter accounts of the airlines on your intended route and sign up for alerts from fare-tracking services-there are several of those. That way you’ll learn about a flash sale before it ends.
  • Families should confirm free set assignments right away when booking on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines or United Air Lines, says Summer Hull, author of the Mommy Points blog. She factors in the extra fee for advance seat assignments when flying on the discount airlines that won’t let you pick a seat for free.

Cost can rise quickly for a family, if mom, dad and two kids each have a suitcase, that’s often $100 each way with the US Want to sit together on a low-fare airline? Seat assignments run $2 to $100 around trip on Spirit Airlines and $12 and up on rival Frontier Airlines. Although Frontier Airlines offers a discounted package of extras. If the family must reschedule, changing a nonrefundable US ticket costs $200 on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines or United Airlines but is free on Southwest Airlines.

Fees for certain seats and other items can vary widely – or be waived – depending on whether you belong to an airline’s loyalty program and whether you’re an elite member. Even using the airline’s branded credit card can make a difference. Your fees might be waived on one airline but not another.

“It is totally consumer-unfriendly,” says Charles Leocha, who is on a panel that advises the US Department of Transportation about consumer issues. “That makes it next to impossible for consumers to comparison-shop. There is no single site for anyone to go to.”

Consumer advocates are waiting for a Transportation Department rule that they believe will require airlines to provide information about fees to third parties like online travel agencies, which they say would make comparison-shopping easier. But any such rule is not expected to take effect until late 2016 or beyond.

Congress is unlikely to settle the debate. This month, a Senate committee blocked a proposal to require Transportation Department approval of fees, a vote that pleased the airline industry.

The trade group Airlines for America combines its own  data on bag fees and change fees with government figures on fares to calculate that even with the fees the average US ticket was 10 percent cheaper in 2014 than in 2000 adjusting for inflation.

Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the trade group, says customers can already choose among airlines and select different combinations of prices and amenities to suit their needs.

The current system is working, Hinton says, because we are seeing the highest number of people flying since the Great Recession. Airfare remains a bargain”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s