How to beat the high cost of airfare
by Pete Werner
It is an unfortunate sign of the times. As the cost of fueling our cars continues to climb, so too does the cost of jet fuel. In just the last year alone, the price of jet fuel has risen more than 60%. The result has been the addition of fees for things like checking luggage, overweight bags, bottled water and breathing. But if you think the first half of 2008 was bad watch out. The rest of the year will see even bigger fare increases, coupled with a 15% reduction in overall airline capacity. Yes – the airlines are taking planes out of service and running fewer routes in an effort to maximize fuel efficiency. By some estimates, you could expect to see fares increase anywhere from 10 to 40% depending on the time of year and where you’re traveling.
While there are few ways to get around the price increases, the best strategy for the savvy traveler is to start getting acquainted with the process of purchasing plane tickets commando style. Many of you reading this are accustomed to planning your Disney vacations like finely orchestrated military maneuvers, but it has always shocked me how few put that same effort or energy into purchasing airfare. So, if outrageous airfare is threatening to keep you from your next trip, read on.
1) Flexibility is key.
In an ideal world you would get the best rate on the exact dates of your trip. It’s time to breathe deep and face the facts – the world is far from ideal right now. If your vacation time is important to you, you’re going to have to be as flexible as possible about when you travel . In terms of booking airfare at a reasonable price, be willing to travel Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays during historically slower travel periods. You should also consider being flexible about what airport you are flying in to / out of. Sometimes a longer drive to another nearby airport can yield significant savings. For instance, saavy travelers to Orlando know to always check fares flying into and out of Tampa as well. We’ve seen the difference in fares between the two airports at time can be as much as $100 per ticket. Always check pricing at nearby airports.
While this is not a hard and fast rule, sometimes you can save money if you book a flight that includes a stop over. Don’t overlook this option when researching your flights. If you do find a good fare that includes a connecting flight, be sure to leave yourself a minimum of 1 ½ to 2 hours between connections. U.S. airlines are having a tough time staying ‘on schedule’, and without enough time between connections, you could find yourself stranded in Cincinnati when you would otherwise be frolicking in the Magic Kingdom.
2) Use the tools.
One of the blessings of the internet is the constant evolution of tools to help us track airfares and do comparative shopping. The recent trend among some sites is ‘perpetual tracking’ – where you flag a particular flight and receive email updates as the prices on that flight changes. There are other sites known as “fare aggregator” sites that search multiple sources to find information. I suggest using a combination of tools to help you make the most informed decision possible. Here are some of my favorites:
Yapta.com - While anyone can use Yapta.com (stands for “your amazing personal travel assistant”). and it’s tools, it does seem slanted a bit towards the business or frequent traveler. Nevertheless, Yapta allows you to search all the major airlines for flights and options, then flag the ones you like. Registered users will receive notification via email when the price on your tracked fares change. You can also use Yapta to track flights you’ve already purchased and it will alert you if the fare goes down. Many airlines offer some kind of compensation for reduced fares, and this feature alone could save you a bundle if there’s a price drop after you purchase your tickets.
Farecompare.com – This site takes a similar approach in advising you when a fare you’re tracking has changed in price. This site has a very unique feature: you can not only search for airfare thru their system, but it will show you the lowest prices for the next 11 months. If you follow tip #2 (be flexible), this site can save you a fortune, as you can see a calendar of ‘lowest prices’ for one year out, allowing you to choose the best dates and price for your trip.
Farecast.com - While it does not offer ‘perpetual tracking’ , another great resource is farecast.com – farecast allows you to search for your requested dates, compares fares from most major airlines and will even tell you whether you should buy now or wait. Farecast predicts whether the cost is likely to increase or decrease in the next 30 days, and will even rate how confident it is in its prediction.
Southwest – Southwest airlines runs some pretty good deals, and their ‘no fee’ policy (see below) is winning more and more fans. However, most of the major aggregator sites don’t include Southwest in their search results. It makes good sense to always check Southwest in addition to any other research you are doing.
3) It’s all about the fee’s
As a general rule, the traveling public in the U.S. is not accustomed to paying lots of extra fees when flying. We’ve become used to checking two bags for free, being served at least a bag of complimentary peanuts, and not having to pay for water or soft drinks. Well, that’s starting to change – and it’s important that we now factor in these additional fees when doing comparative shopping for airfare. While airline “A” might have a slightly lower fare than airline “B”, differing fees between them could cost or save you hundreds of dollars.
A good source of keeping track of airline fees can be found on farecompare.com (http://www.farecompare.com/resources/airline_fee_table/index.htm)
As you can see from looking at the chart, the harshest fees being assessed right now are on checked bags. Minimizing your packing means less bags, and learning how to pack smart means no overweight surcharges when you get to the airport. The website http://www.onebag.com has some fantastic tips for keeping your packing (and fees) to a minimum.
4) Email blasts can be a good thing
Virtually every major airline has some kind of email alert they will send out to advise you of special offers. Among the better alerts I’ve found have been from Spirit Air, JetBlue and Southwest. These three are particularly good for running specials on a pretty regular basis. One way to consolidate all those alerts is to use the site airfarewatchdog.com This sites claim to fame is that it is the only site to include ALL major airlines, including Southwest. You can determine how often you want to receive alerts (daily, 2-3 times per week, or weekly), you can enter in your airport preferences as well as particular city to city routes you would like to keep track of.
If you want to be able to search multiple travel sites from one location, check out BookingBuddy.com – this site allows you to search sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Farecast, Priceline and others. While you don’t actually book your travel thru BookingBuddy, it’s a great ‘one-stop’ resources for doing your research.
5) BOOK NOW!!!
Seriously – finish reading this article, use the tips and book your flights NOW. Prices are going to skyrocket towards the end of the year – so if you plan on traveling later this year or early next year, I suggest you book those trips before the next round of fare hikes takes hold.
With a good strategy, some patience and a little luck you can find a great deal on airfare and save your family vacation. Remember, just because fares are going up doesn’t mean there aren’t deals to be had – we’ll just have to work a bit harder to get them than we used to.
- Beaches and Cream will begin accepting reservations December 18 - This small soda fountain restaurant serves burgers, sandwiches and their signature ice cream desserts.
- Limited Time Magic: Secret Santa Week - Visit the Town Square Christmas Tree on Main Street and see Duffy in his Christmas outfit. Other Disney characters will be located around the park. Get a special decorated keepsake card from each one as a souvenir.
- Limited Time Magic: Tour the Magic Kingdom with Phil Holmes - 25 lucky guests will get to tour the park with current Vice President Phil Holmes.
- Blog - Best Places to View EPCOT’s Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
- VIDEO: Holiday Storytellers - The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs - New to Holidays Around The World 2013 at Epcot in 2013 are the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs. The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs play multiple sets each day filled with Christmas songs done the Canadian way on the Mill Stage.
- Blog - EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Jonathan Groff from FROZEN
- Guests at All Star Resorts will no longer receive Key to the World cards - As of 12/2/13, guests at All Star Sports Resort will no longer receive a Key to the World card. All information for the resort and parks will be on the Magic Band you receive when you check in. This will begin at All Star Music on 12/4/13 and at All Star Movies on 12/6/13. This system is already in place at Pop Century.
- VIDEO: it's a small world Holiday Full POV Ride-Through - The happiest cruise that ever sailed gets even merrier for the holidays. it's a small world, the 1964 World's Fair attraction that came to Disneyland in 1966, gets a full overlay for the holiday season including decorations and a new soundtrack!
- Atlanta Braves spring training tickets now on sale - The Atlanta Braves return to ESPN Wide World of Sports for their annual spring training. Tickets are first come/first served and the games take place at Champion Stadium.
- Blog - Give Kids the World Village and Giving Tuesday December 3, 2013
- VIDEO: Gran Fiesta Tour POV Ride-Through - Donald Duck disappears on his way to a Three Caballeros performance in Mexico City and his friends, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, set out to search for him.
- Blog - Brewing Now: Joffrey’s Disney Parks Collection of Coffees
- Blog - A Brit’s Perspective – Visiting the UK in Orlando
- Specialty food and drink offered for holidays at Epcot - New this holiday season, each country will be serving a specialty food and drink.
- New bus loop at Magic Kingdom open - In addition to regular single stops, there are several double stops that will accommodate two regular buses or one of the new articulated buses.
- Limited Time Magic: Donate a Duffy the Disney Bear to Toys for Tots - Visit the Once Upon a Toy store or the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney and with every $5 purchase, Disney will donate a Duffy the Disney Bear toy to Toys for Tots.
- Limited Time Magic: Jolly Year of the Ear - Celebrate the season in style with Santa Mickey and Minnie Santa ear hats - only available for a short time at the Emporium at Magic Kingdom.
- Times and dates for Epcot holiday storytellers - Each country has its own special theme that highlights its culture. Storytellers will delight you with tales of their heritage and how the holidays are celebrated in their homeland.
- VIDEO: "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen in Celebrate the Magic - This holiday season, "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen is featured in Celebrate the Magic, the nighttime projection show on Cinderella Castle.
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street Plaza - Cinderella Castle - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street Plaza - Cinderella Castle November 11, 2013 - Night
- Blog - Happy Thanksgiving from the Magic Kingdom!
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street U.S.A. Bridge - Main Street U.S.A. - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street U.S.A. Bridge - Main Street U.S.A., November 11, 2013 - Night
- Blog - Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: Turnstile-Free!
- New holiday entertainment for the Canada pavilion at Epcot - Follow the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs on a musical tour to discover the country's holiday customs.
- Blog - Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights 101
- Royal Caribbean is offering a $200 Onboard Credit and 50% Reduced Deposit! - The offer is only available for booking on December 2, 3 and 4, 2013.
- Disney Vacation Club members offered event at Splitsville Luxury Lanes - On December 2 and 9 from 5-6:45pm, the experience will include bowling, shoe rental, a shared appetizer, an entree (or kids' meal), a signature beverage and a special DVC gift.
- Several rehabs added for early 2014 - The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Festival of the Lion King, Kali River Rapids, and the Studio Backlot Tour have all been added to the rehab list.
- Aulani named Best for Families by Fodor's Travel - Aulani was recently named "Best for Families" by Fodor's Travel in their "Top 10 Hawaiian Resorts for 2013" list.
- Blog - Review: “Frozen”
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street Train Station - Main Street U.S.A. - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street Train Station - Main Street U.S.A., November 11, 2013 - Night
- Limited Time Magic: Thanksgiving Treats Available - Special treats will be available at various locations in the theme parks.
- New Year's Eve dining info for Swan and Dolphin Hotels - The restaurants of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin will be offering special New Year's Eve menus.
- Walt Disney World Annual Passholders can save up to 37% at select hotels - Discount is valid for travel between 1/4/14-3/18/14, 3/14/14-3/29/14, 1/19/14-3/13/14 and 3/30/14-4/12/14.
- Blog - Why I’m excited to take my baby on a Disney Cruise!
- Limited Time Magic: Jingle Cruise poster giveaway - Celebrate the Jingle Cruise at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park with a complimentary mini poster while supplies last.
- Several rehabs scheduled for the Magic Kingdom - Among the closings are The Plaza Restaurant, Pinocchio Village Haus, Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, Barnstormer, and the Liberty Square Riverboat.
- Blog - Disney’s Newest Animated Feature “Frozen” Flurries Into Theme Parks On Both Coasts
- The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special to return? - Rumors are that the popular holiday version of The Comedy Warehouse will be returning to Hollywood Studios this year.
- Blog - EXCLUSIVE: Nikon becomes the Official Camera of Walt Disney World and Disneyland
- VIDEO: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2013 - What happens when you combine one 30,000 pound, 65 foot tree, one 40 foot star, 5500 twinkling lights, 430 feet of garland, 325 ornaments, 275 feet of strung popcorn, 400 flickering candles, 135 candy canes, 100 gingerbread cookies and the Disney Characters? Why, you have the perfect recipe for Christmas at the Magic Kingdom!
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Photography - Creative photos from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
- Christmas dining options for Walt Disney World - All restaurants on property will be open as normal, but some are serving special Christmas menus.
- Thanksgiving dining options at Walt Disney World - All restaurants on property will be open as normal, but some are serving special Thanksgiving menus.
- New looks available for the holidays at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Now through 1/3/14, little girls can choose from a Frozen Package or a Holiday Minnie Package.
- Santa Claus comes to Downtown Disney - At the Marketplace, you'll find Santa Claus waiting to greet you at his chalet in front of the World of Disney store.
- VIDEO: Josh Gad - Voice of Olaf in "Frozen" - Interview - Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in "Frozen" and "World of Color - Winter Dreams" and Tony Award nominee for "The Book of Mormon", takes a few minutes to talk about how important it was to work on a Disney film that led to a theme park experience and the music behind it all.
- All guests at Pop Century will now use MagicBands - As of 11/14/13, guests at Pop Century will no longer receive a Key to the World card. All information for the resort and parks will be on the Magic Band you receive when you check in.
- Heart is the third musical group to cancel SeaWorld performance
- Willie Nelson backs out of SeaWorld Orlando's Bands, Brew & BBQ event
- Disney obtains distrbution rights to future Indiana Jones films
- Family sues Disney when woman dies from complications after a fall
- Disney's PhotoPass+ changing to Memory Maker
- WestJet debuts Sorcerer Mickey plane
- Seaworld Orlando's Shamu show closes for 3 months
- Barenaked Ladies cancels SeaWorld concert due to animal rights issue
- 12-year-old girl protests SeaWorld parade float
- SeaWorld plans several events for early 2014