It seems simple enough at first. Finding an inexpensive airline ticket online doesn’t seem like a difficult task to take on, right? Not so. Online ticket buyers often find confusing choices, rather than easy accessibility, which was the original motive for airlines when they made the service available in 1996.
Today, with so many online sellers advertising cheap fares, you may find yourself tempted to just book the flight over the phone, finally eradicating yourself from the "best deal" game.
Online ticket selling is a fast growing industry, with sales reaching about $6.5 billion in 2001. Though this only accounts for approximately 4.5 percent of all travel spending, it is estimated that online travel spending will grow to about 14.2 percent in 2005, doing about $28.2 billion in sales, according to Jupiter Communications, an e-commerce research company.
Online ticketing is a mutually beneficial industry, with airlines being able to modify prices and availabilities based on changing market conditions. Meanwhile, students have the benefit of shopping around for the best deal, and they can continuously check the number of seats and prices available as they are posted by the airlines.
With hundreds of airline and travel agency websites to choose from, how should students go about this searching for cheap student airfares?
Before whipping out the plastic, there are some basic online ticket buying facts of which student travelers should be aware. For starters:
- Rules, rules… Online ticket availability is often limited and carries many restrictions.
- No refunds, please. For tickets purchased online, no cash refunds are generally given. Many airlines will grant you a credit, in which you can maintain the credited rate and apply that to your next ticket purchase with their company.
- Mistakes are not good. If you accidentally type in the wrong date, or constantly have changing plans, be aware there may not be any online costumer service agents to help you sort out the mess you created while buying your ticket.
- Be flexible. Getting the cheapest possible fare depend on your trip’s timing, how far ahead you plan how long you stay at your destination, and how flexible you can be on days and hours of your travel. The fewer limitations you have, the better your chance at finding the cheaper fares.
- Get benchmarks for pricing. Start by searching the major airline sites and using their price quotes as benchmark prices.* From there, compare those prices with the major online travel companies, such as Travelocity, Expedia, and Priceline.
- Last minute? Some airlines list discounted trips each Wednesday for that following weekend. Airlines will also run frequent specials on their websites, so do not totally disregard these sites.
- Name your price. Priceline.com lets the consumer bid for a flight and oftentimes can come out with an astonishingly low fare. Be aware that trips must be roundtrip, only coach class, and you must give your credit card number when making your bid. There is no refund possible.
- Not exactly roundtrip? Online booking also has benefits for you. "Open jaw" excursion tickets let you leave from a different destination than the one you flew into. Those tickets typically cost half the price of a regular round trip ticket to each destination.
"I’ve found the best deals at extremely low prices online. It’s super convenient to just be able to find a ticket a click away instead of putting up with hassles on the phone." said University of North Carolina student Rita Zota.
Zota has been buying airline tickets online since she started college and has continued this method of online purchasing throughout her trips domestically, but has found that for her international flights, student travel agencies offer larger discounts than the major websites.
The best advice for students seeking a cheap airfare: don’t get too hungry and bite at the first low fare, as chances are that a better deal exists somewhere else. Be patient, with so many choices available, it may take you a while to find the cheapest student fare.
* According to Ed Perkins, author of "Online Travel."
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