Shopping online for airline tickets
used to be a no-brainer. All you needed was a few minutes
to browse the "big three" -- Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia -- and voilá, you had your ideal itinerary at
a sensible price point.
While buying tickets online is still the
most efficient way to book a flight, the online travel
landscape is getting increasingly harder to navigate.
Not only is there an abundance of seemingly similar
travel sites and search engines to pick from, but tickets
are also becoming less and less affordable.
“The key to getting a deal is to be a flexible shopper. ...”
"We have been spoiled
by absurdly cheap air fares in the past,"
says Henry Harteveldt, vice president
and principal analyst with Forrester
Research, a company that follows travel
trends. "As much as it's a shock
to see prices go up, we see how much
it costs to fill up our own gas tanks.
So, we can only imagine how much the
airlines must spend on jet fuel."
Still, high prices are hard to reconcile,
especially for bargain-hunting travelers. There are
deals out there -- they're just harder to find.
"The key to getting a deal is to
be a flexible shopper," Harteveldt says. "Consumers
need to do research and explore nontraditional ways
to get to their destination."
That means browsing --
not just the big three, but also the
slew of relatively new travel search
engines, such as Kayak and Mobissimo,
as well as the increasingly popular
sites that combine travel planning with
community, such as TripAdvisor and newbie TripConnect.
You may not be able to actually book
flights directly from these sites, but
you'll get great feedback on how to
best plan your trip and find the best
"The big three online agencies have
totally redefined how we buy and sell travel,"
he says. "But there's certainly room for more innovations."
In fact, most travel experts welcome these new sites.
They urge travelers to take the time to explore their
options and shop around. That doesn't mean you need
to spend hours scouring the Web, but you shouldn't be
too impulsive because fares fluctuate.
"As much as we'd love to find that
one-stop shop travel site, it just doesn't exist. There
is no one site that can possibly capture all of the
available airfares," says Bill McGee, a consultant
for Consumer Reports WebWatch, a project of Consumers
Union. "Because each third-party site negotiates
rates and fares in proprietary ways and at different
moments, it's hard to get a snapshot of what's available
in real time."
Sometimes, of course, you will stumble
upon a great deal early on in the shopping process.
In that case, experts say you should take advantage
of it before someone else does. "There are fewer
lower fares out there now," says Joel Frey, a spokesman
for Travelocity. "So, if you see a deal, don't
hesitate to book it. It could be gone in a half an hour."