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Flying certainly isn't what it used to be. The days of real bargin air fares have become few and far between. In addition, many airlines now charge you to check a bag. And if it exceeds the allowed poundage, there is another fee for that.
Sometimes it seems like booking a ticket to Orlando, Florida (MCO in airline code speak) has more in common with buying stocks than it does with vacation planning. The prices of tickets seem to fluctuate randomly, and, although after the fact it's clear to all the industry observers why the prices have changed, nobody seems to be able to predict the changes in advance.
And like investing in the stock market, getting good prices on tickets requires research and effort. At the very least, you need to know what the various fares are for the flights so you are interested in and if you're paying on the low end or the high end of the prices.
NOTE: This document discusses techniques for people looking to research airfares on their own. Investigate all your options thoroughly!
Tip #1: Keep your Options Open
Most people tend to look at flights from a given airport, on a specific date, around a specific time. Fair enough - that's when and where you want to go. But if you can be a bit more flexible in your travel, you might find some really good deals.
Often the biggest win will come from looking at flights from several airports, not just the biggest/closest one. A lot of low-cost airlines use smaller airports - for example, Southwest flies out of Providence, RI, which is accessible to many people who might otherwise fly out of Boston Logan. Make sure you know what airports are within a few hours drive of your home and look at flights out of those airports too. A chart listing some of these smaller airports is below. Even if you don't want to fly a low-cost airline, you can still often find flights on the majors that are cheaper because of the competition. For example, at times US Air will offer you a cheaper ticket from Allentown, PA to Orlando than from Philadelphia, even though the Allentown ticket will take you through Philadelphia! Just keep all costs in mind (including your time, transportation to the airport and parking at the airport).
If you're doing-it-yourself with online reservation systems, you'll probably have to do several searches to look at all the airports around you - the systems won't automatically spot bargains at nearby airports for you.
Flights tend to be less expensive on Tuesday, Wednesday and sometimes Saturdays.
On the other end of the trip, if you're going to rent a car in Florida , think about slightly further out airports in Florida such as Tampa, Melbourne or maybe even Jacksonville. It might make a big enough different to be worthwhile (and pay for the rental car!). Just make sure you take into consideration the extra costs this might entail (I'm told rental cars can be more expensive in Tampa, and you'll be burning up more gas).
In addition to being flexible about your choice of airports, be sure to investigate alternative times and days of week for your flights. Even if you don't really want to come home Monday at 6 am, it doesn't hurt to look. And you may find that bargain fare that makes it worthwhile.
Tip #2: Know the Fares
When you get a quote on a round trip fare to Orlando, it's nice to have a frame of reference for evaluating it. Take a look at one of the various Internet reservation systems and find out what the airfares are 4 and 6 months from now. Even thought this isn't when you actually want to travel, it's worth doing this search so you can figure out what the standard leisure fares are. Alternatively, many reservation systems.
Some websites, like Kayak.com, will consolidate all known fares for you. Our experience has been that this is a great first step, but always check the individual airlines. Sometimes you can do better.
Once you know what the going rate is for a leisure-class ticket, you have a solid basis for comparison. If somebody quotes you a fare for about the same price, you're not being taken to the cleaners, but not cleaning up either. With luck and work, you can occasionally find tickets at a discounted rate.
A few airlines (like Southwest) will give you vouchers if you find they discounted your flight (while the special is on) and give them a call.
Tip #3: Keep your Eyes Open for Bargains
The fare you can get 6 months from now isn't likely to be a great bargain; bargains tend to show up either when the airlines are having trouble filling their seats or when a price-war breaks out. To spot those, you need to watch what's happening in the industry.
Sometimes the fares are only available for a few days or even only a few hours, so it pays to check frequently for specials that crop up. Remember Tip #2 - Know the Fares! I was checking Delta out of Dulles, VA once and stumbled upon a $98 roundtrip fare. That's the lowest I think I have had ever paid at that time! By the time I finished closing my mouth and convincing myself that it was a roundtrip fare, I had lost almost all my flight options -- they went that quickly. I did, however, manage to snag one roundtrip!
Airlines used to give bonus air miles for booking online, hardly happens any longer.
Many major newspapers online also offer up-to-date airline bargin news..check your favorite and bookmark it.
Tip #4: Subscribe to Airline Internet Specials
Generally on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the various airlines send out an email announcing heavily discounted, last-minute airfares for the coming weekend. Many of these airlines serve Orlando and may offer you a very cheap weekend trip. You typically have to fly out on a Friday or Saturday and return on the immediately following Monday or Tuesday. Take a look at the airlines which serve Orlando and offer last minute deals - if they serve your local airport(s), sign up for the email!
Southwest is unique in that their weekly specials aren't limited to flights for the coming weekend; instead, you can often book trips weeks or months ahead. But the special fares are only available for a few days, so even if the trip is months away, you have to book quickly. Be sure to sign up for Southwest's Specials - they are time limited but you can occassionally get a great price!
Some airlines may send you a special email from time to time with a bargain flight elsewhere.
It seems that just about every airline is offering or is about to offer email specials these days. The table below lists the ones I know of - if you find others, please let me know!
The list of airlines offering weekly specials tends to change; even if an airline which serves Orlando and your local airport(s) isn't listed, check their web site anyway.
Tip #5: Join Frequent Flyer Program
The benefits are not what they were a few years ago, but you never know when you may become a regular traveler and can reap the benefits. You need to be a member when you fly, so you are credited appropriately. You can't apply after you return home and hope to get points.
Tip #6: Apply for Airline Credit Cards
Whether it is planes or cruises or companies, appling for co-branded cards can be a real benefit. See where you will benefit the most and apply for that card. Often there is a sign-up incentive that might get you close to a free flight. The Disney Visa also offers special perks to members.
Below are just a few links for reservation systems. There's a million of them out there. One thing to know: there are only 4 actual general reservation systems in this country, and all the myriad of internet reservation systems eventually just route your request to one of them. So although each web site promises that it will find the best fare for you, the truth is that they can do no better than the reservation system they use.
It's also important to note that not all airlines are listed on many reservation systems -- like good priced and almost everywhere flying Southwest. So beware, there's no one-stop shopping!
Comparative shopping is important, one source is not going to provide you with consistently low fare options. Decide which 3-4 sources are best for your travel needs and check them weekly. Microsoft Expedia; Orbitz; Priceline
As mentioned above, often times you can find better fares by flying out of smaller or nearby airports because "bargain" airlines use them instead of the major airports. Not just the bargain airlines offer lower fares, but the majors, too, will usually match the lower fares to remain competitive. Following is a chart of some of other airports you might want to look at for flights to Orlando.
|Major City||Other Airport||Airport Code||Bargain Airline(s)|
|Cleveland||Akron - Canton, OH||CAK||AirTran|
|Detroit, MI||Flint, MI||FNT||AirTran|
|Detroit City||DET||Pro Air ( Seasonal )|
|New York/Newark NJ||Allentown, PA||ABE||Delta Express|
|Long Island MacArthur (Islip)||ISP||Southwest|
|Philadelphia||Atlantic City, NJ||ACY||Spirit Airlines|
|Washington DC||Baltimore/Washington Int'l||BWI||Southwest, AirTran|
Even if a smaller, local airport isn't served by a bargain airline, you can occasionally find better fares from them than you can from larger airports - even if the cheaper flight ends up connecting through the very same larger airport!
If you're interested in investigating flights on these airlines, the following table contains contact information. Remember that different airlines offer different levels of service.
Because smaller airlines have a smaller fleet, mechanical problems can be a severe disruption for them - and you. In addition, they more frequently revise their schedules, forcing you to change yours in turn.
|Airline||Phone #||Web site|
- Orlando Airports - usseful information, including a list of airlines which fly there.
- Go Greyhound if you have to get there but can't find a fare that's low enough...
- Amtrak Trains along the east coast can sometimes offer great deals and the autotrain is very convenient!
- Search Yahoo's News Feed for news of airline fare sales.