Sunday, April 09, 2006

A bit of web scouring

Like everyone I know, I love to buy my air flights cheap and travel with reputable airlines. A few friends, Larry and I are off soon on a jaunt to Europe, but because it's a tour and I'm breaking off afterwards to visit family and friends in Northern Ireland and England, I have to find my own flights to and from our first and last destinations. So I've spent the last few weeks scouring a myriad of internet sites for flights at reasonable prices. I've learned a lot and, as the vacation season will soon arrive for millions, I thought I'd share my experiences.

First, I searched using the much touted Hotwire.com and Expedia.com and discovered these two sites are connected to one another; indeed Expedia invites the harried surfer to try to find a cheaper flight by visiting Hotwire after a search of their database has been completed. I've come to realize that searches of these sites and others (including Cheaptickets and Orbitz) tends to yield the same price give or take a couple of dollars. I imagine that's to do with a maturing of the practice of booking travel on the web and the fact that everyone is now savvy and double checking to ensure they've got the cheapest and/or most suitable deal.

The big surprise was that I could have saved myself a great deal of hair pulling by going directly to the carriers sites, specifically the European carriers sites. As I will visit London at some point, I decided to keep my eye on the British Airways website and the cheapest fare (and most direct route) was found on their site because of specials they started running. And something very interesting occurred on the Hotwire site while British Airways commenced its offer to London; no matter how I interrogated their database, no British Airways flight turned up during the currency of BA's offer, a fact all the more remarkeable in that BA flights were popping up like wildfires prior to this period. Instead, all I got from Hotwire was a long list of American Airlines flights at higher fares. I imagine this must be because Hotwire and other sites have to add on booking fees, etc. and the airline making the special offer direct to the public via its website will not pay the internet company such fees, etc and thus they have no incentive to offer them.

The bottom line is to remember to keep airline websites in mind when doing searches.

For people travelling within the UK, Ireland and continental Europe there are a slew of budget airlines offering fantastic and cheap travel options. For example, I can travel to Belfast Airport from London (usually Stanstead airport which is easy to access) for as little as $25.00 including taxes, etc. The principal airlines with good fares are EasyJet (whom I've used before and was very happy with), Ryan Air and Air Berlin. Be forewarned that it is prudent to book your flight stateside; if you wait until you arrive in the UK and leave yourself little time between booking and travelling, you will pay a much higher price nine times out of ten.

One problem I'm encountering during my leg to continental Europe is that some of these airlines (Ryan Air, in particular) tend to use out of-the-way smaller airports that are a considerable (if not great) distance from the named arrival cities. Americans unused to the locations of airports in and around European cities should be especially vigilent here.

For example I'm going to Budva in the Republic of Montenegro, which is not as well served transport-wise because it lies in the former Eastern European bloc as would a major Western European city. If I were to use British Airways or JAT etc. from London, the cost of the flight plus additional fees and taxes ranges from half to almost three-quarters of what I shall pay to get from the US to Europe. This is extortionate to the American mind (although our internal fares can be hefty too), but the trade-off is that they would get me to within thirty kilometers of my destination city. By contrast, EasyJet will fly me to Split in Croatia for about $45.00, but Split is 230 kilometers away from Budva. I must then get a bus from Split to Budva ($40.00) which runs only on certain days (otherwise I have to take a bus to Dubrovnik, then catch another one to Budva) and the journey takes five to six hours. This is not a problem for me as I have time to coordinate all the various schedules and I get an opportunity to see a lot of the riveting coastline.

A vital matter to watch out for with the budget airlines is baggage allowances. My research showed that (in addition to one item of cabin baggage--check each airlines specifications about that) the allowance is one piece of luggage weighing up to 20 kilos (44.2 Lbs approx), which is adequate for a chap but will cause nightmares for fashion obsessed lads and lassies, families, and women with an inability to cull brutally during their initial packing. (My dear friends L&L fall into this unfortunate category as I've seen them arrive at airports sheparding a medley of bulging suitcases bearing a "total cram load" similar to that of those enormous steamers used on Atlantic sea crossings in days of olde.) Should one traverse the limit, the airline watchdogs will pounce joyously and without mercy because--whether admitted or not--this is a revenue source. And it's highly lucrative because each kilo one goes over will cost an additional $9.50--up to a maximum that, if exceeded, could in theory actually result in your being refused permission to fly.

I'm now happy because my flights have been booked and I can now look forward to the trip. Regardless as to how or where you decide to travel, enjoy the search and Bon voyage.

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3 comments:

Alan in Belfast said...

For internal flights, http://skyscannet.net is a good bet to compare across low-cost carriers.

Alan in Belfast said...

skyscanner.net - would help if I could type and spell!

Damian McNicholl said...

Alan,

Thanks for ther heads up on this website.