By Times staff writer
The market for cheap flights has changed significantly in the past year. Are your techniques for finding airfare bargains up to date? The following tips can help you avoid paying too much.
1. STAY UP TO SPEED. Your favorite travel Web sites can be here today, gone tomorrow -- or they can decline in quality over time. That's why it's important to adjust your list of last-minute sources frequently, rather than check the same two or three sites month after month.
2. CONSIDER YOUR ONLINE OPTIONS. Web sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, CheapTickets and Priceline have been around for a while now, and so have individual airlines' sites. More good sites have popped up in recent years: Orbitz (www.orbitz.com), Hotwire (www.hotwire.com), Site59 (www.site59.com) and fare "scrapers" such as QIXO (www.qixo.com) and SideStep (www.sidestep.com).
3. KNOW WHEN TO LOOK. The best time to start hunting for deals is at about 1 a.m. on Wednesdays, because many airlines begin posting their latest bargains at midnight on Tuesdays.
4. PROCRASTINATION CAN PAY. If you can handle the potential stress, consider booking your flight at the last minute. You stand a very good chance of tapping into airlines' "distressed" inventory -- vacant seats that are made available at discount prices in the hopes of filling them.
5. REQUEST E-MAIL ALERTS. The airlines announce last-minute airfare specials each week via e-mail. It's easy to sign up for the alerts on each airline's Web site.
6. WIDEN YOUR SEARCH. Try not to fall into the trap of assuming that the best airfare deals are to be found exclusively on the Web. Make a point of expanding and varying your search methods.
7. CHECK IN WITH TRAVEL AGENTS. Airlines may have snatched away their commissions, but travel agents can still find valuable last-minute deals. They also can help you save precious time by steering you away from long and inefficient travel routes.
8. PERUSE THE SUNDAY PAPER. Pull out your magnifying glass and examine those small airfare ads that run inside the Travel section. It can be a good way to find great bargains on domestic and international flights.
9. THINK CONSOLIDATION. Airline ticket consolidators sell tickets for 25 to 75 percent off the retail price. Tickets sold through consolidators are often nonrefundable and carry steep cancellation fees. Don't pay until you contact the airline directly to confirm your reservation.
10. RACK UP FREQUENT-FLIER MILES. It's never been easier to accrue miles with one or more airlines -- and you don't even have to fly. By applying for an airline-affiliated long-distance phone plan or credit card, and by being scrupulous about paying that card off in full each month, you can accumulate miles quickly and score free flights or upgrades.
-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: MSN's bCentral (www.bcentral.com); Frommer's (www.frommers.com)
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