For travelers reluctant to spend the weekend in their primary destination, but who are open to spending the prior or following weekend in a different city, a triangle trip may be just the ticket. Here’s how it works. Say a New York traveler needs to conduct business in Los Angeles on a Thursday or Friday, but doesn’t want to spend the weekend there. She could fly to almost any other American city (San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, even Honolulu, and so on) following completion of business in Los Angeles, spend a Saturday night, and benefit from a cheaper airfare than she would pay if she spent Saturday night at home. A New York–Los Angeles nonstop ticket with no Saturday stay could easily run $2,000; whereas a fourteen-day advance-purchase triangle ticket that also includes a weekend in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, or Boston could, in most instances, be purchased for under $600. It’s not difficult to decide which to choose if you want to save money (and have a great weekend in a city of your choosing). For more details on triangle trips, refer to Chapter 2. The Magic of the Split Ticket Travelers unable to find a reasonably priced advance-purchase, roundtrip airfare with no Saturday night requirement, or who do not want to engage in a back-to-back strategy, should check out a split ticket strategy. As the name implies, the ‘‘split ticket’’ divides one longer itinerary into two shorter ones. For example, any traveler wanting to fly coast to coast should see whether purchasing two separate tickets through Las Vegas (such as a roundtrip New York–Las Vegas, and a separate roundtrip Las Vegas–Los Angeles ticket) will save money. Las Vegas is possibly the best city for finding cheap airfares for two reasons: 1. Gamblers want to spend their money on slot machines and poker tables—not airfares. If the airfare is too high, most gamblers will simply stay home and wait till the weekend. 2. Two of the nation’s low-cost airlines—Southwest and America West—use Las Vegas as a hub city and offer excellent prices with or without advance purchase. Frequently, major carriers will match the prices of their low-fare brethren in competitive markets, which may be preferable for those trying to rack up frequent flyer miles.
For tickets to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, London may be a perfect intermediate city since economy-class prices are very competitive both into and out of the city. However, business- or first-class tickets into and out of London frequently exceed the prices for premium seats to or from major cities on the European continent. For more details regarding ‘‘split ticketing’’ strategies, refer to Chapter 4. Use Your Frequent Flyer Miles Using frequent flyer miles from an airline that does not require a Saturday night stay when redeeming a saver award is perhaps the simplest and TIP As a general rule of thumb, American Airlines miles are the easiest to use, followed by United. Frequent flyer miles from Continental are the most difficult to use. quickest way to save when you don’t want to spend the weekend in the destination city. This won’t work on Continental and its partner Northwest, however, as they do require a weekend stayover in your destination when you cash in a 25,000-mile saver award. All airlines will waive capacity controls on redemption of awards when passengers are willing to use double miles. A better alternative to spending double miles may be to use a premium award for business or first class on that same flight, which frequently costs less than the double miles required for a coach-class saver award.
Good Prices Come to Those Who Wait
Airfare sales provide discounts mainly for advance-purchase, nonrefundable coach tickets that require a Saturday night stay in the destination. It is unusual for regular airfare sales to include ‘‘no Saturday night stay’’ fares, which typically require the purchase of expensive, fully refundable tickets. Exceptions to this rule may occur during the slower summer months, when demand for business travel slows down. Furthermore, as discussed in the Internet overview in this chapter, airlines occasionally offer sales on a few specific city pairs that will almost never be advertised in the newspapers. A small percentage of these timesensitive airfare specials do not require a Saturday night stayover in the destination, but inevitably require at least a seven- or fourteen-day advance purchase. Checking Bestfares.com weekly—or better yet, daily when you have a specific need—is by far the most effective method for identifying such specials because of their ‘‘now you see it, now you don’t’’ nature. Furthermore, there is a reasonable probability that a special discounted fare for a desired city pair will be available at least once over a two- to three-month period, especially if the originating and destination cities have major airports.
Visit the Web Sites of ‘‘Last Resort’’ When all else fails, and you’re getting close to your departure date, visit the Internet sites Hotwire.com and Priceline.com, where you might be able to find significant savings. But any reduced airfare you might get comes with an element of risk, as you won’t know the airline, flight times, or stopovers until you have paid for a nonrefundable fare with your credit card. Hotwire.com does tell you the price in advance, then gives you one TIP If your Priceline bid for an airfare is refused, the rule is that you cannot rebid for airfare within seven days unless you change travel dates, add airports, connections, or off-peak hours, or agree to fly on non-jet aircraft. Just increasing your offer price does not work. After seven days, you can rebid on the exact same itinerary and particulars. hour to accept the offer with a credit card. At Priceline.com, if your bid is accepted, your credit card is automatically charged for the nonrefundable fare. Refer to Chapter 9 for more details. As a basic strategy, try Hotline.com first. If you still feel tempted to go to Priceline.com, bid significantly below (that is, at least 30 percent less) the price you were offered by Hot wire.com. Refer to Chapter 9 for more details.
■ Planning is important for the traveler who has seven or fourteen days before a desired travel date, but does not want to stay over a Saturday night in his destination.
■ An excellent starting point for obtaining benchmark prices and seeking out specials is Orbitz.com. Hotwire.com, which is jointly owned by the major U.S. airlines as a channel to distribute distressed inventory, is also useful for getting a benchmark ‘‘lowest fare,’’ since it will provide you with a price the airlines consider to be ‘‘low’’ (without specifying airline, flight times, or stops) before you need to purchase with a credit card.
■ If you have at least seven to fourteen days before your departure date and cannot find an excellent fare or want a nonstop that is priced too high, consider the back-to-back strategy. Buy two nonrefundable advance-purchase tickets, each with a return portion that includes a Saturday night stay. Use the outbound flight on the first ticket for your flight from your home city to your destination; then use the outbound portion on the second ticket for your return flight from your destination back home. If the return portion is more than thirty days away from the outbound segment, causing the ticket price to become excessive, simply purchase tickets with return portions on dates less than thirty days following your departure, and discard the return portions. Since major airlines claim that this strategy is against their rules, be sure to purchase each ticket from a separate carrier. Southwest Airlines does not prohibit use of backto-back ticketing.
■ Waiting for a sale does not typically reduce the price of tickets that have no weekend stayover—but it’s worth a try! However, purchasing both tickets for a back-to-back strategy on sale will enhance the already significant savings.
■ The serious, creative traveler may also want to try a split ticket strategy, purchasing two tickets through an intermediate hub city such as Las Vegas, if flying cross-country in the United States, or through London for travel from the United States to Continental Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
■ The traveler who does not wish to stay over a weekend in his primary destination city can use a triangle strategy to spend the weekend in a second destination city, which may bring significant savings.
■ Check the prices of low-cost airlines such as Southwest, America West, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit, ATA, or AirTran, which will often beat major airlines on nonstop or one-stop routes.
■ Consolidators such as Cheaptickets.com, Overstock.com, and Flights .com may be an excellent alternative for tickets without a weekend stayover.
■ Using frequent flyer miles is an excellent way to save if the price of a regular revenue ticket is too high. Some airlines—most notably Continental and Northwest—require premium (double mile) awards if the traveler is not going to stay over a Saturday night. All major airlines waive capacity controls if the traveler uses double miles, meaning, if there is just one available seat, it’s yours! Business- or first-class awards may be a better value than premium awards since they usually require fewer or the same number of miles (40,000 to 50,000 miles for domestic business- or first-class ticket versus 50,000 for a premium coach-class award).
■ Internet sites of last resort are Hotwire.com, where you must accept the price offered with a credit card within one hour, and Priceline .com—you name your price and, if accepted, your credit card is charged for the nonrefundable and nonchargeable fare. If you try ‘‘bidding’’ at Priceline.com, start at 30 percent below the price you were offered by Hotwire.com. For both Web sites, the airline, time, and stopovers are revealed only after you pay for your nonrefundable and nonchangeable ticket with your credit or charge card.
‘‘Last-Minute Airfare Savings’’ Doesn’t Have to Be an Oxymoron
When opportunity knocks, as it did on my door one day, you don’t want to have to pay through the nose to use it. I faced that dilemma one sunny afternoon, when a phone call brought me some good news. My contact told me that her department’s senior management liked what they saw in my proposal letter and had invited me to make a presentation in Chicago. Could I be there in three days, ready to go? ‘‘No problem!’’ came my confident reply, while my mind performed mental gymnastics. Although I had no doubts about the quality of my presentation, since I already had prepared well for it, I knew flying at the last minute from Los Angeles to Chicago without paying an exorbitant fare—possibly up to $2,000—would be the real challenge. Then I remembered I had a certificate for a free roundtrip flight on Southwest Airlines stashed away in my air coupons pendaflex folder. Ten TIP For those of you more familiar with Chicago’s O’Hare airport, which almost all major airlines use, Midway has become the preferred airport for the lowcost airlines and is situated much closer to downtown Chicago. minutes later I had squared away my one-stop free reservation into Chicago’s Midway airport. Of course, booking ahead of time is still the preferred way to go, as I learned when I managed a group of employees who traveled three times or so each month. Even though they knew when they would travel at least five weeks in advance, they invariably waited to make their reservation just one or two days prior to their departure. Offering small monetary incentives to encourage a change in their habits—from booking at the last minute to making advance purchases— positively impacted my division’s overall travel costs. Of course, there will always be those occasions where the ever-ready businessman will need to make a last-minute trip to pitch a customer, fix a burning problem, or simply nurture an important relationship. For the purposes of this book, we have defined the last-minute traveler as someone who needs to fly without advance notice of at least seven to fourteen days—regardless of whether or not the itinerary includes a Saturday night stay. This presents the greatest challenge in obtaining exceptional airfare value, but there are proven strategies to achieve significant travel savings.