I’ve been traveling to Italy once or twice a year for the last 15 years on business and pleasure. That means I’ve spent a fair amount of time on various airline booking sites trying to find the best fare. Independent travelers like me often feel that finding the best (and I’ll explain my idea of what is best) flight is a little like Clint Eastwood’s famous line in the movie Dirty Harry – “Do you feel lucky? Well do ya punk?”
I’ve spent endless hours on the internet searching to find the best and most budget conscious airfares to Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice and Zürich. Playing Russian roulette with a loaded credit card watching the fares go up and down faster than a window of opportunity. And that may be the biggest problem – if you see what you feel is a good fare should you jump on it or should you wait? There are differing opinions on this; each has their strengths. I tend to start my search as early as I can, usually 3 months in advance of my departure date and continue looking until I am about 30 days out. However depending on where you want to go, and more importantly what you want to do and where you want to stay, this may or may not work. Sometimes you get very good airfare only to find that the hotel etc. you wanted to stay at is fully booked.
So how do you find the best travel deals? It all depends on what your needs are. Do you favor one airline over another? Are you flexible with your travel schedule including time of the year? Do you mind layovers and the number of connections (a hidden clause on most budget airfare sites)? Are all the connecting flights operated by the same airline or are you flying off brand? Is the airport you will be flying from and to a consideration and how much will it cost for transportation once you land? Airfare is just one consideration in your whole travel experience and the cheapest airfare may not be the best when factored into the overall goals of your trip. There will be tradeoffs. You may be willing to spend a little more on airfare to avoid the 12 hour layover, attend that cooking school in Tuscany scheduled for one week in September or spend Carnevale in Venice.
I generally start my search with TripAdvisor. Over the years I have found it to be a reliable source of information. So much so that I have made the effort to post several reviews. I’ve also used Orbitz Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia,Hotwire, Cheap Tickets and Travelzoo.
Lately I’ve noticed a few new upstarts like Route Happy that include a “happiness” factor (roomier seats, nicer planes, high flyer ratings and best entertainment ) and flight searchers like Momondo with robots that search hundreds of sites simultaneously to give you an overview within seconds. If color-coded graphs appeal to you sites like Hipmunk display search results with different colored bars representing different airlines and total flight duration, including layovers. GetGoing, a flight finder with a Pick Two option will give you a discount if you give it two destinations and let it pick one (or something like that?)