During one of my business trips to the East Coast, I found I would be attending a midweek meeting in Washington, D.C., so my wife and I planned to rendezvous there. In making her flight reservation—over a month in advance of the date—we were quoted a fare of $2,200 by both United and American Airlines for a nonstop flight from Los Angeles, simply because she had no Saturday night stay in D.C. Unless I could find a more reasonably priced airfare, I planned to use frequent flyer miles— which, as always, I prefer to save for global leisure travel in first or business class or for last-minute trips that would otherwise be expensive . . . Off I went to my favorite online travel site, Orbitz.com, where I found a Northwest flight with one stop each way, roundtrip Los Angeles– Washington, D.C., for under $500. While finding a good fare is a challenge when your travel plans don’t include a weekend stay, there are a number of strategies that increase your chances. This chapter focuses on travelers who have the benefit of at least seven- or fourteen-day advance notice. Once Again—Plan! As ever, planning is important if you want to find a great fare when you can book in advance but don’t have the benefit of a Saturday night stay. As soon as you know your dates, start that search. The more time you have to plot your strategy, the better and more plentiful your options will be. You may try to locate a special fare to your destination by searching a few key Internet sites (see next section) or, if you have at least eight to ten weeks advance notice and will be using the back-to-back strategy (also discussed in this chapter), you may decide to wait for a sale. And should you decide to use frequent flyer miles, booking as far ahead as possible may improve your odds of redeeming them for the flights you want. Remember, the more flexible you can be in your travel plans, the more likely you are to get a good fare. If you are making a reservation by telephone, ask the agent to try alternative routes as well as different departure times. For example, if you want to fly from San Francisco to Boston on United, you can request not only nonstops, but routings with a stopover in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. And, if you can travel any time of day, you will have more flights to choose from and therefore more opportunities to find the cheapest fare. Search the Internet The Internet enables travelers to access information that was previously the exclusive domain of travel agents. To get a benchmark price for future comparison, start your Internet search at the airline-owned Web site Orbitz.com. Then check out fares at Internet travel agency sites, such as Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Overstock.com, and Cheaptickets.com. Check out Hotwire.com to see what the airlines consider their ‘‘distressed inventory’’ fare (refer to Chapter 9 for more details). Bestfares.com (click on ‘‘News Desk’’ from their home page) posts a variety of time-sensitive ‘‘you snooze, you lose’’ specials (along with the rules of the fare) that come onto the market each day, especially fare sales targeting a few specific city pairs that will almost never be advertised in the newspapers. A small percentage of these short-lived specials do not require a Saturday night stay in the destination, but inevitably do require purchasing at least seven to fourteen days in advance. Purchase of these specials may be possible from travel agents or airlines direct, but are sometimes available only to subscribers of Bestfares.com magazine through the publisher’s affiliated consolidator travel agency. The annual subscription fee is $59, and can be requested online. Book a Back-to-Back Ticket Back-to-back ticketing is one of the cleverest and most powerful strategies you can use to realize big savings on air travel when you can book seven or fourteen days before your departure date, but have no Saturday night stay at your destination. Although it might seem tricky, it’s really quite simple and ingenious. Here’s how it works: Instead of buying one expensive roundtrip ticket, the traveler books two cheaper, advance-purchase, nonrefundable, roundtrip tickets. Ticket 1 has two flight segments: the outbound from home city A to the destination city B on the desired departure date, and the return from the destination city B back to home city A for some future date. There must be at least one Saturday night between the outbound and return flights.
Ticket 2 also has two flight segments: the outbound from destination city B to home city A on the traveler’s desired return date, the return from home city A back to destination city B at some future date. Again, at least one Saturday night must occur between the outbound and return portions. The traveler uses the outbound portion of each ticket: from city A to city B on the desired departure date, and from city B to city A on the desired return date. Because the originating flights for ticket 1 and ticket 2 are used for the intended trip, no Saturday night stay is required.
For example, let’s assume that a New York business traveler needs to be in Los Angeles for two days, but does not want to stay over a Saturday night. Her preferred travel dates are departing on Tuesday, October 8, from New York to Los Angeles and returning two days later on Thursday, October 10. Using the back-to-back strategy, she will book Ticket 1 from New York to Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 8, with return travel from Los Angeles at some future date, with at least one Saturday night between the outbound and return dates. For our purposes, let’s have her return portion be ticketed for Thursday, November 7 (which could make it the return flight for a potential second trip). Ticket 2 begins with an outbound segment starting from Los Angeles back to New York on Thursday, October 10, with the return segment from New York back to Los Angeles at some future date, including at least one Saturday night between the outbound and return portions. Let’s make that date Tuesday, November 5, which could make it the originating flight for a potential second trip. From a price standpoint, a New York–Los Angeles nonstop roundtrip on a major airline with no Saturday stay can easily run $2,000 or more on a major airline, even with advance purchase. By purchasing two advancepurchase roundtrip tickets at an average price of $400 each, or $800 total, the traveler saves $1,200—and potentially receives two trips instead of one! Now that you’ve mastered the basic concept of the back-to-back ticketing strategy, you’re ready to move on to the finer points.
How to Use the Remaining Segment of Each Ticket Many travelers who use the back-to-back strategy simply discard the return portions of each roundtrip ticket, content to save hundreds of dollars on the fare they originally set out to achieve. However, those discarded tickets represent a fare that can be worth $2,000 or more, which is now essentially free! In other words, to book that second trip with no Saturday stay would again cost up to $2,000, so the traveler who uses all four sectors realizes a total savings of $3,200 ($1,200 from the first trip PLUS $2,000 from the second trip). Of course, if you use this strategy, you will most likely want to book the second trip for several weeks or months in the future, and your plans may change. Should this be the case, make sure you know the rules of the ticket and what additional charges you may incur with a change. Some examples: 1. With major airlines, there may be maximum-stay time constraints associated with the purchase of a nonrefundable advance-purchase ticket, meaning that: (a) Trying upfront to book a ticket that has a return portion later than thirty days after the outbound may be very expensive, or (b) The traveler may need to pay a significant amount of extra money if the original tickets permitted a maximum stay of only thirty days and a change in the ticket puts the return date beyond this time frame. If you purchase a ticket with a return portion that exceeds thirty days from the outbound flight—or make a change to your ticket that pushes the return date beyond that thirty-day window—and the net airfare increases dramatically, it may be more cost-effective to simply discard the return portion(s). 2. Confirmed changes can be made to each ticket at any time (even after you have flown the originating portions of each ticket) as long as those changes are allowed within the rules of the ticket. 3. Major airlines will typically charge a $75 to $100 change fee for each ticket—$150 to $200 for both.
Other Important Factors to Consider When Booking Once you have decided to book two roundtrip tickets for your back-toback ticket, go back and review some of the key sections discussed for advance-purchase tickets, which apply to any advance-purchase nonrefundable tickets. In particular, check out other important strategies outlined in Chapter 2, including ‘‘Wait for the Sale,’’ ‘‘Vary the Time or Date,’’ ‘‘Consider Alternative Airports,’’ ‘‘Other Important Types of Discount Certificates, Coupons, and Vouchers,’’ and ‘‘Should You Go Standby with or Without a Ticket or Confirm a Change to Nonrefundable Tickets?’’ Heed This Important Caveat! The low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, however, does not prohibit the use of back-to-back ticketing. Since back-to-back ticketing offers passengers the opportunity to save so much money on air travel, the major airlines have universally declared its implementation to be a violation of their rules. If an airline discovers back-to-back ticketing, it may try to reclaim the difference between the fare paid and the fare that should have been paid from the traveler, although it’s more likely they would go after the travel agent who booked the tickets (if an agent was involved). The only surefire way to prevent detection is to purchase the roundtrip tickets on two different nonaligned airlines. For example, if you booked your original outbound flight on Continental (ticket 1), your original return flight might be on American (ticket 2). When using the second ticket, the carriers would reverse: outbound on American, return on Continental. There is no risk using two different airlines. Take a Friend and Save Even More You don’t have to go to Vegas to ‘‘double down,’’ as they say. Do it with back-to-back ticketing, compounded with companion fares. Let’s say two business colleagues will be traveling together (or perhaps your spouse wants to come along for the ride). Each traveler could buy one of the roundtrip advance-purchase tickets and use a free or discounted companion certificate for the accompanying traveler. (Refer to Chapter 2 for details.). Using the example above with Continental and American Airlines, Traveler A could purchase a roundtrip ticket on Continental and cash in a companion certificate from Continental’s Executive Pack for his business colleague to use; conversely, Traveler B could purchase the second roundtrip ticket on American and use a companion certificate earned by being approved for an AAdvantage MasterCard or renewing his Delta American Express Platinum card to return the favor to his traveling associate. When You Need to Return to the Same City Again and Again Let’s assume you are an entrepreneur in New York, and your business partner lives in Los Angeles. You need to visit him once every four weeks, and you don’t want to stay over a weekend. So every fourth Tuesday you fly New York to Los Angeles, and return the next day Los Angeles back to New York. Although back-to-backs will save you tens of thousands of dollars every year, there is an even simpler solution. . . . To prime the pump, your first flight must be a one-way ticket from New York to Los Angeles. Of course, you could buy an expensive one-way ticket, but as a veteran road warrior, you purchase a cheap nonrefundable fare and dispose of the return portion. From then on all you need to do is to buy a simple, advance-purchase roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to New York, with the return portion four weeks later back to Los Angeles. Since there will be not just one but four Saturday nights between your outbound and return flights, you may take advantage of cheap, nonrefundable tickets. All you’re doing is changing your frame of reference—your tickets suggest your departure point is Los Angeles, rather than New York. And since you’re not going against airline rules—as a back-to-back does— you can safely keep using the same airline. Because you know when you need to travel, all your tickets can be purchased at least fourteen days in advance. And you can always make last-minute changes to each ticket’s return portion for a cost of $75 to $100 as late as you want—which is really the date you start your return trip from New York back to Los Angeles. How You Can Back-to-Back from City-to-City—The Open Jaw Back-to-Back! ‘‘Simple’’ back-to-back tickets that offer two trips to the same city are great for consultants who must meet with a client or work on a project in the same destination city over an extended period. The problem is, many business travelers don’t need to return to the same city, so they end up tossing the return portion of each of their two roundtrip tickets. What a waste! Ah, but for those business travelers who need to visit City A one month, then City B the next month, there is another strategy that may work—although I’ll admit it sounds a bit like an advertisement for a contortionist. It’s called the ‘‘open jaw back-to-back.’’ The one limitation to consider regarding which cities will work for an open jaw is the requirement that the closer destination city to origination be at least 50 percent of the distance to the further destination city. Still, it’s worth considering, as the significant price advantages are similar to those for ‘‘simple’’ open jaw tickets. For example, let’s again assume that you live in New York and have at least fourteen days advance notice to book a flight to Los Angeles in October. You also need to fly to Denver in November. Reservations could be made as follows: Open Jaw Ticket 1 has New York City to Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 8, as the outbound portion, with a return from Denver back to New York on Thursday, November 7. Open Jaw Ticket 2 starts with an outbound segment from Los Angeles back to New York on Thursday, October 10, with the return segment being the originating flight of the second trip from New York to Denver on Tuesday, November 5. Should the dates of the November trip to Denver move, the airlines will charge $75 to $100 to change the return portion of each ticket—a minuscule sum when compared with the extraordinary savings. Don’t forget that the reverse itinerary would work just as well if you needed to visit Denver for the first trip and Los Angeles for the second.