Air is a primary travel component of most vacations, with your basic need of getting from point A to Point B as inexpensively and comfortably as possible with the definition of expense & comfort subject to one’s personal interpretation. Not much else going on here, besides choices of class (First, Business, Premium Economy, Economy and recently added, Basic Economy). All of these different classes can be on the same plane, with differences in seat comfort, leg room, width of seat, reclinability being a primary factor. Also, food & beverage service, baggage restrictions are key factors. Expense can range from several thousand to less than $100 for a single seat on board the same aircraft for the same flight.
Air schedules & pricing are typically released 330 days prior to the flight, with the notable exception being Southwest Airlines which releases flight schedules & pricing from 90 – 180 days prior (Southwest Airline is also the rare execption when it comes to cancellation and change fees – they have none. Also, they allow 2 pieces of checked bags free at all times unlike virtually all other airlines). When schedules and prices are released, typically the cost is pretty high for that flight, as they know there are many people who will pay that premium price to lock-in the schedule that they like, which usually ties in with an event, such as a cruise they have purchased more than 330 days in advance, or a special event (either a large scale public event such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or a private event such as an anniversary, or party for someone’s big birthday). Then, after a month or two the prices will usually go downwards a bit, eventually settling in to what the market price is with the competition. Airfare typically goes up within a couple of months of the trip, and skyrockets if the flight is within the next 3 weeks. The best time to purchase is typically between 3 to 6 months prior. ANY TIME that you see a flight schedule that you like, at a price you like, you should go for it, as you never know if the fare will go up, or if the flight might even sell out and no longer be available at all. Occasionally a fare might lower after you make a purchase, and airlines typically don’t honor the lower fare, but sometimes they do. If you cancel and rebook, typically the cancellation penalty is $150 – $200, which means it’s not worth it unless the flight is lower in cost than the cancellation fee.
IN ALL CASES, REVIEW THE FULL TERMS & CONDITIONS BEFORE YOU MAKE YOUR PURCHASE, AND TAKE A FULL LOOK AT THE INCLUSIONS / RESTRICTIONS IN ORDER TO MAKE THE BEST DECISION!!
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF FARE CLASS / SEAT TYPES
In general, the information below applies across the board to most airlines. Some airlines do not offer all of these classes of services, some use slightly different names that are proprietary to that airline only, however it is comparable to these generic terms below used by most airlines (examples; Alaskan Air offers what they call “Saver Fare” which is just like Basic Economy, or AeroMexico calls their Premium Economy class “AM Plus”). Some flights are on smaller planes that do not offer all of these class types, yet the same airline may offer all of these classes on other flights they service, using larger airplanes. Costs go up in the order below, with Basic Economy being the least expensive ticket, First Class being the most expensive in almost every case, with rare exceptions.
BASIC ECONOMY: Fairly new class of service, lowest cost possible, seats are inside the main cabin area. Can only bring a small carry-on that fits under the seat in front of you and a small “personal item” such as a purse or camera bag. Subject to full cancellation penalties and stiff change fees and other restrictions. Usually the last to board the plane. Typically the exact same seat as economy, just more restrictions. No meals.
ECONOMY: The long-time standard fare, low cost, seats inside main cabin, can bring on a full size carry on that fits in the overhead compartment and a personal item. Also with full cancellation penalties and change fees, boarding plane right after first & business class. Usually no meals.
PREMIUM ECONOMY: Typically seats are in the main cabin, however towards the front of the cabin with rows a little farther apart offering around 4 inches or so of more leg room. Cancellation penalties and change fees apply, often not as restrictive as the other economy class seats. Sometimes with meal service, boarding just after business and first class.
BUSINESS CLASS: In the front cabin, extra wide more comfortable seats with additional leg room and ability to recline further. Meals and usually drinks (alcoholic) are included. Much less restrictive / lower cost cancellation and change fees. Premium entertainment system, free checked luggage. Among the first to board the aircraft.
FIRST CLASS: In the front of the cabin, most comfortable and largest possible seats, many times with the ability to lie completely flat and / or having partial walls for compartmentalization and privacy. Almost no restrictions regarding cancellation / change fees. Full premium food & beverage service, premium entertainment system, free checked luggage. First to board.
Airlines are not very travel agent friendly, typically offering lower prices directly to the consumer through their websites, lower than what a travel agent can access through the “official” travel agent air ticketing system which is highly regulated. A travel agent typically charges a fee to book airfare only, on average $25 – $40 per person to pay for the costs they incur for the airline ticketing system and their other costs to operate, including labor.
Airlines have been charging ancilliary fees, showing a decent fare for the air ticket, but all sorts of fees to do things like get seats assigned in advance, baggage fees, entertainment, meals, speak to a representative via phone to make or change your reservation, etc. Think about all of those add-on fees when determining overall flight cost!
Airlines are very aggressive with their loyalty programs; free to join and earning miles when you fly with them, or by using credit cards that the airline “sponsors”, getting points to use on flights when you make purchases on the card. Besides earning points which you can use for free flights (paying the tax only, or a slight fee if you book the flight using award miles within a few weeks of the flight), many of these cards offer free checked bags for the card holder and even one or more travel companions if booked on the same credit card, discounts on in-flight meals & entertainment, early boarding privileges and more. Most cards have an annual fee, however if you fly once or twice a year and take advantage of the perks offered, it may be to your advantage to get and use an airline sponsored credit card.
Here is a link to an informative article and information on various airline credit cards currently available:
WAYS TO PURCHASE AIR:
Consolidators used to be widespread and common years ago, not as much any more due to numerous disdvantages. The nickname used within the industry for them is “bucket wholesalers”, as they pre-purchase “buckets” full of tickets on popular routes at low wholesale prices and then mark them up to sell for a bit less than what the airline sells them for directly. Airlines allowed a small percentage of seats on their flights to be sold at wholesale pricing, as this was typically done well in advance, pre-paid, so the airlines had some operating cash on hand well before the flight departs. The only advantage to using an air consolidator is for a lower fare;
– Airfare is less expensive.
– First to get bumped from overbooked flights, with the re-booking by airline onto the worst schedule possible as they use the better available schedules for full-fare paying passengers
– Limited flight options
– Typically NO airline reward miles are earned / given
– For service, you need to call the air consolidator for assistance, the airline would not be able to assist. Air consolidators typically have a minimal service staff, long hold times on the phone and limited options to offer travelers in the event of delays or your desire to make changes.
ONLINE TRAVEL AGENCIES
The “big players” in the world of OTA’s such as Expedia, Orbitz & Priceline offer more than just air, however when it comes to purchasing air only through them, the logistics are pretty much the same as if through an airline consolidator, same / similar pro’s & con’s as stated above.
However, an OTA has the ability to “bundle” air with other components, such as hotel and transfers. Airlines offer some flights to them at a discounted rate in advance, IF they “bundle” the air up in a package deal and DO NOT fully disclose the exact cost of the air component itself to the consumer. This allows an airline to ensure that a certain percentage of their seats get sold at a decent cost, but that the airline can also sell some seats directly to consumers at the full higher cost they wish to get. From a business point of view; why would an airline offer a ticket that they can sell for $500 to a big OTA for $400, then see the OTA put it online to sell at $475 for example. Who would pay Airline XYZ $500 if they can get the exact same flight for $475 from an OTA? Hence, bundling.
Similar overall pro’s & con’s as mentioned with Air Consolidators apply, however when the wholesale cost of the air is added to the wholesale cost an OTA negotiates with a hotel, even with the OTA markup for their profit, the overall cost to the consumer may be quite a bit lower than if the consumer purchases the air directly from the airline, and the room directly from the hotel. This is easy to calculate when shopping on line, and at times be a good value for the consumer. OTA’s offer a wide range of flight options typically, but like Air Consolidators do not present all airlines, or all flights even from airlines they do work with.
You may wish to purchase your own flights directly with the airline of your choice, or perhaps using frequent flier rewards points, making note of the total costs including fees when deciding which fare / airline is best for you, along with reading all of the full terms & conditions BEFORE you submit your credit card. If you maintain loyalty to an airline or two, you can easily build up some mileage reward points to be used for free flights in the future, a consideration if the fare on one of your “preferred” airline is just a tiny bit more than the other airlines. Also, you can go to one or two websites of the airlines that you favor, you will become familiar with how they are set up. A drawback to checking with airlines directly is having to surf through multiple airline websites individually. If you search for flights thorugh an OTA, as mentioned they do not present all flights, or even all airlines so you may miss out on some great options.
A FANTASTIC WAY TO SHOP ONLINE FOR AIR DIRECTLY WITH THE AIRLINES IS TO USE THIS WEBSITE THROUGH THE LINK BELOW. THIS WEBSITE IS THE PUBLIC PORTAL FROM THE AIRLINE RESERVATION SYSTEM THAT MOST AIRLINES THEMSELVES USE, SO YOU CAN REVIEW FLIGHT SCHEDULES AND PRICES FROM DOZENS OF AIRLINES AT ONCE WHEN YOU PERFORM JUST ONE SEARCH ON THIS WEBSITE:
On the ITA Matrix website you can NOT make a purchase. You can review air schedules and pricing in real time, and then go to the website of the airline you have chosen and pull up the same flights, and they will be at the same price as seen on the ITA Matrix website (with very few exceptions. Flight pricing is dynamic and ever changing, it is possible that during the time you pull up the airline website and find the flight you want, more seats may have been sold which may engage an automatic price adjustment. Again, this is very rare). The ITA Matrix site is very user friendly, with numerous search parameters that you can adjust to find what you want, including a “find the best price within a month” option that is fantastic! Another great feature, you can have the results presented to you in the order you prefer (shortest flight times, shortest layover, least expensive, etc.).
TOUR OPERATORS offer an excellent option that provides quite a few advantages and not as many disadvantages as an airline wholesaler, with lower air costs than what one would pay directly through an airline. Tour Operators bundle up air with either a single resort / hotel / lodge accommodations (referred to as a LAND PACKAGE); or with a complete tour program that includes multiple cities staying at different hotels, with transportation, meals and guide services all bundled up into a complete seamlessly executed package (referred to as a TOUR PROGRAM). In both cases, unlike the mega-OTA’s, the travel providers specialize in specific regions and areas, traveling on specific dates or times of the year in most cases. This specialization is beneficial to the travel consumer in several ways, from having great contracted pricing with regularly used hotels, airlines and other travel providers, to having knowledgeable service staff who are familiar with their travel product.
FOR A CRUISE VACATION
IF CRUISING; it is wise to get to your embarkation port the day before the cruise starts if possible, staying overnight near the cruise port to ensure you don’t miss the ship due to a lengthy flight delay. This is a great way to extend your vacation and get accustomed to the climate & time zone so you are fresh and ready to enjoy your cruise fully from day 1!
If you choose to arrive on the day the cruise departs, make sure you land at least 4 – 6 hours prior to the cruise departure. On the last day of your cruise, your flight back home should be at least 4 – 6 hours after the ship arrives into port.
Cruise lines offer air as well to passengers reserved on a cruise. There are many pro’s & con’s, and each trip has different parameters so it is dificult to provide a full yet concise review here.