Essential Air Fare Tips

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.

Information Provided by the U. S. Department of Transportation.

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