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Some newer ways to search for cheap flights

November 5, 2007
I’ve bought a lot of plane tickets this year. Well, five (and one more maybe in the works!), which is a lot to me. I would guess that plane tickets were my largest discresionary spending this year, and the previous year as well. I don’t live in a major metropolitan area, so my flights always have a connection through a hub, and I haven’t paid anything less $300 this year!

The usual methods
My usual method is to search ALL of the popular sites, and travelbuddy.com or travelzoo.com have useful ways to automate that. It might be overkill, since expedia or travelocity typically will turn up the lowest fares, but I don’t want to miss anything. I particularly like those sites because of the ability to search a few days before and after your desired travel dates. (If you are a student, studentuniverse.com and sta.com are musts. Other sites won’t find those deals.) Once I find the best deal, I look at what airline it is on, then go directly to the airlines site and search there. It is often the same price (or $5 cheaper), and it is always better to buy direct from the airline. If you miss your flight and bought a ticket through hotwire, you are basically out of luck.

I tried out Yapta
I heard about Yapta.com, and was intrigued with the idea of tagging trips and being emailed when the price drops. I tried to use it, but was ultimately disaapointed. First, it doesn’t work with Firefox yet. I hate having to open up explorer just for that. Second, it doesn’t work on Student Universe, where I get a lot of good deals. Most annoyingly, you are only able to tag exact flights with exact airlilnes, you can’t just enter your dates for a general flight. It really didn’t work out too well for me for searching for flights, but if you had already purchased a flight and wanted to try to get a voucher when the price drops, then it makes a lot of sense. I haven’t been able to do that yet.

Farecast is another nice tool
A new favorite is FareCast. I did a search for my holdiay flight, and it came up with a total of $401. Now, that is a few dollars higher than the other sites, so it must add its own fees or something. Still, the airlines it lists as the lowest price agree with what I found. I would alwyas do a new search on expedia or somewhere else to verify, but it seems to have the right idea. For popular routes it predicts if the price will go up or down, and shows you a price history. It told me with 80% confidence that the prices will drop in the next 7 days. I waited a few days, and prices held steady, and the availablity of times to fly for the lowest price shrunk. I think it was a little off due to the holiday season. In general it seems like a good tool, but I’d be wary of predictions around the holiday season.

Using RSS on my iGoogle page
What I am liking the most about Farecast is that I can easily use the RSS feed and add it to my iGoogle homepage. I’m one click away from repeating the whole search. I think it will also show up if it does go down. Great! Unfortunately the RSS also only works for “popular” routes, and it is unlikely that most of my searches will be those routes.

Another nice iGoogle gadget is the Expedia fare calander. This would be the ultimate tool if it offered more airport choices. If I think I might want to fly to Chicago from Portland sometime in the next month, I could add this little guy to my iGoogle homepage, and see what the prices would be for almost date in the month. Thanks to this gadget, I have the option to fly to the city where I will be working next year and do some apartment hunting right after Thanksgiving, and at about $220, it will be the cheapest ticket I’ve purchased all year!

These tools are still a bit limited, but it a huge improvement from the days of travel agents and paper tickets. What I really want is a gadget that I can tag certain dates between two cities, and have an RSS feed when they drop. Farecast does this, but only for popular destinations. Does anyone know of a tool that will do this for all routes?
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