Booking Flights

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I don't always book the least expensive flight when I travel. Still price is a major factor. For example, there are certain airlines that I won't fly, even if it means saving $100. Nepal Airlines (formerly Royal Nepal), is an example. Some airlines just don't inspire confidence. Major carriers generally have better maintenance and on time performance. Sometimes, however, there are no alternatives. Flying in East Africa, it is hard to avoid Precision Air. What a name for an airline that is seems to never be on time. Flight cancellations are the norm, not the exception. It is quite a risk hoping to make a connection to another airline. I've had some sweaty palms because of them.

Of course, mileage programs sometimes make spending a little more a good investment. If you're going to fly 20,000 miles on a trip to India, you might as well get something in return! But so called "loyalty programs" are losing their appeal (see my previous post). 

Finding good fares used to require a lot of research. With all of the sites devoted to airfares, it has gotten pretty easy. What you find, however, is that there aren't that many secret fares to discover. It used to be that certain agencies would by a block of fares at a set discounted price. They still do, but now there are so many sales that are actually lower than those contracted fares. The big "aggregator" sites, like Kayak and Skyscanner now offer pretty much the same fares. I came across an article comparing the different sites in USA Today. It shows that there still is reason to shop around a bit.

Recently I met with a representative of STA Travel, the well-known student travel agency. They have both contract fares and published fares. They say they can get you the lowest published fares, but also make availble a wide range of unpublished "contract" fares. There are some great perks that you can't find on the large commercial sites. We have always recommended them for anyone who wants a flexible return date. They can offer you a ticket from what they call their "Blue Fares" with only a $75 change fee or a $100 cancellation fee. Compare this with your typical low cost fare where your ticket might be non-refundable if you change your plans, or the change fee is substantially higher.  It definitely can be worth paying a few dollars more to have this flexibility. Obviously, if you know your exact dates, and are willing to risk that nothing will come up to change your plans, these fares might not be your best choice. What would I do? I'd search for my lowest fare, then contact STA to see if they have one of these "Blue Fares" that might serve me better and if not, see if they can match the fare I found.y Kevin O'Neill


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