Buying a ticket on the Internet is not the same as getting the cheapest price. As with any travel agent, you may be offered the best deals on flights, an average price, or a test price. You still have to make comparisons and move boldly when a deal presents itself. A good strategy is to book the best-value, fully-refundable fare early, then continue looking for something better to pop up.
You may find an attractive price on the main leg, but a high one on the connect. Try reversing the search, or book one leg at a time. Allow at least three hours between flights for international departures/changeovers.
Often the best deals are offered directly by airline websites. In some cases you sign-up with the airline and they notify you via email of hugely-restricted but incredibly cheap specials a few days before the flight. These include American, United, Continental, Northwest, Southwest (the U.S. low-fare and efficiency leader), U.S. Airways, TWA, Delta, Alaska, Canadian, Carnival, and Cathay Pacific (which periodically auctions–with minimum bid–several hundred seats on New York and Los Angeles to Hong Kong runs.)
Large Internet Travel Sites
All listings are the result of experience, general budget travel knowledge, or research. The only contract is between author and reader.
The biggest, from AMR, the parent of SABRE and American Airlines.
Microsoft’s successful (in the black) travel site.
A reverse-auction website where you decide how much you’re willing to pay, then software searches for an airline willing to release a seat for that amount. You choose the date but not the time, if an airline agrees your credit card is billed, and you are permitted only one bid per route. While Priceline recommends bidding at the lowest published fare for the route, some success is reported at thirty percent below.
Recommended for South East Asian travelers.
The Palo Alto engine behind many “front” travel agencies such as CNN. ITN works with local travel agents.
American Express travel agency.
From Dallas-based Pegasus Systems.
Hotwire is an airline, hotel, and rental car partnership discounting oversupply (including 500,000 daily seats) directly to consumers. Buyers do not know airline names, flight times, or hotel locations until after purchase, and refunds or changes are not permitted.
An airline alliance designed to bypass traditional reservation networks and return a few extra percent of revenue to the companies flying the airplanes. It provides comprehensive route and fare information, and has attracted a million-dollar CEO and Justice Department interest.