Online Ticketing–More Than a Point and Click

by Donna on January 8, 2012

There was a time when booking an airline ticket was simple–just call your travel agent and tell her your travel needs.  All the flights were in s publication rivaling the Manhattan phone book in size, called the OAG or Official Airline Guide.  Routes and rates were fixed, bags were checked for free, and hot meals were served by smiling stewardesses.  It’s a little different now.  You probably go online, to your favorite website, and start searching.  Before you click the “buy now” button there are a few things to remember.

First of all, not all websites are created equal, and there is no website that shows all existing flight options.  Online sites like Expedia or Orbitz are travel agencies and have contracts with the airlines to display available tickets–just like your travel agent.  These contracts can influence which airlines come up first in a search and may not include all fares.  Low cost, independent carriers–Southwest, Spirit, AirTran, Jet Blue–are usually not shown.  It takes some searching to find everything.

The granddaddy of all the online search engines is ITA Software, www.itasoftware.com.  Initially it was only available to agents, but it has been public for awhile and was recently acquired by Google.  ITA is not a booking engine, but is the original software the airlines licensed to build their sites.

Regardless of which booking engine, online agency, or airline website you use, there are a few basic rules that apply to all:

Do not wait until the last minute.  Almost always, fares increase substantially less than two weeks before departure date.  Airlines use a yield management system and the cheapest seats are usually those booked far in advance.

Weekends are prime time for leisure travel.  Flights Friday -Sunday run a minimum of $20 higher that other days of the week.

Book holiday travel as far in advance as possible or expect to pay a premium–if seats are available at all.

Consider alternative airports.  Orange County is a lot more convenient to Disneyland than LAX.  Akron-Canton to Washington DC is often half the price of Cleveland to Washington.

Get a seat assignment, even if it is a middle seat.  You can always try to change it later, but without a confirmed seat you could be the first one bumped.

Remember, travel agents do still book airline tickets.  Their experience and knowledge can save you a lot of time.  And time is money–or a chance to read about where you are going.

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