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Because of the emphasis on price competition, consumers may choose from a wide variety of air fares. Some airlines are trying a "back to basics" approach-offering flights at bargain basement prices with few extras.
For fare information, you can contact a travel agent, another ticket outlet or an airline serving the places you want to visit. Ask them to tell you the names of all airlines flying there. A travel agent can find virtually all airlines' fares in his or her computer. Or, if you prefer, you can call each airline to ask about the fares they charge, particularly any special promotional fares they may be offering at the time. You can also pay attention to newspaper and radio ads, where airlines advertise many of the discount plans that apply to your city. Finally, be alert to new companies.
Here are some tips to help you decide among air fares:
Be flexible in your travel plans in order to get the lowest fare. The best deals may be limited to travel on certain days of the week or particular hours of the day. After you get a fare quote, ask the reservations agent if you could save even more by leaving a day earlier or later, or by taking a different flight on the same day.
Plan as far ahead as you can. Some airlines set aside only a few seats on each flight at the lower rates. The real bargains often sell out very quickly. On the other hand, air carriers sometimes make more discount seats available later. If you decided against a trip because the discount fare you wanted was not available on the desired date, try again, especially just before the advance-purchase deadline.
Some airlines may have discounts that others don't offer. In a large metropolitan area, the fare could depend on which airport you use. Also, a connection (change of planes) or a one-stop flight is sometimes cheaper than a nonstop.
Does the air fare include types of service that airlines have traditionally provided, such as meals or free baggage handling? If you have a connection involving two airlines, will your bags be transferred? Can you get advance seat assignments? If you are stranded, will the ticket be good on another carrier at no extra charge? Will the first airline pay for meals or hotel rooms during the wait?
Many discount fares are non-refundable; if you buy one of these fares and later cancel your trip, you will not get your money back. Some fares also have a penalty for changing flights or dates even if you don't want a refund. You may also have to pay any difference in air fares if your fare is not available on the new flight.
Some airlines will not increase the fare after the ticket is issued and paid for. (Simply holding a reservation without a ticket does not guarantee the fare.) Other airlines may reserve the right to collect more money from you if the fare that you had purchased goes up before departure time. Find out from the airline before you buy your ticket what its policy is on assessing fare increases after the ticket is purchased.
After you buy your ticket, call the airline or travel agent once or twice before departure to check the fare. Fares change all the time, and if that same fare goes down before you fly, some airlines will refund the difference. But you have to ask.
Differences in air fares can be substantial. Careful comparison shopping among airlines does take time, but it can lead to real savings.
Excerpted from:U. S. Department of Transportation. ISBN 0-16-045193-0. September , 1994. pgs 3-5. Note: As of July, 1997 this was the latest non-internet-published U.S. State Department document pertaining to this topic.
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