Airfare Searches: Know the Right Places
You've probably already used one of the big online airfare search systems, and you learned they work well for most ordinary coach/economy round trips. But if you're looking for student or senior fares, or want to check a date range, or prefer to fly premium economy, or want to compare fares, including fees, no one search site really serves your purpose. I checked 10 sites for specialized search capability: the three big online travel agencies --
Airfares often vary from day to day, sometimes by a large amount. Many airline sites allow you to determine whether changing your referred itinerary travel a few days plus or minus can cut your fare. Among the large sites,
Extra fees have become a major element of total airfare costs, and including extra fees for checked baggage, various seating options, meals, and beverages in your initial fare comparisons is increasingly important. So far, however, only two sites facilitate this comparison:
-- TripAdvisor combines fee selection into the system immediately after your initial entries, and it includes most fees you're likely to encounter.
-- TruPrice's full search system is still in a beta-demonstrator phase, so it lacks the current functionality that you get with TripAdvisor. However, when fully implemented, the TruPrice system will give you an even wider choice of extra-fee services.
The big online agencies are largely ignoring premium economy. Only three large aggregator sites -- Kayak, SideStep, and Vayama -- provide premium economy as a search option. Given that the importance of premium economy seems to be growing, at least on long-haul intercontinental routes, the failure of the big online agencies to deal with it is something of a puzzle. Of course, airlines that offer premium economy post fares on their own sites, but searching individually can be a hassle.
As with senior fares, special deals for students and youth seem to have largely evaporated, at least on major domestic routes. However, a few airlines may still offer special student deals -- typically, for extended stays that may exceed the maximum-stay limits on some cheap adult round-trip fares. At any rate, Vayama provides an option to search for student fares, and
Clearly, the "best" single site for any fare search depends on your current search priorities -- no one approach covers all the options. Also, keep in mind that the main online agencies and aggregators constantly try to one-up their competitors.
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