Pity the poor traveller flying out somewhere this Summer. Not only will he have to contend with long lines, pat downs or body scans, luggage restrictions and crammed planes, he will also have to pay what seems close to 30% more than the same prices this time last year.
I started my quest for an affordable ticket home over a month ago. After my first search, I gulped in disbelief – I am a pretty savvy traveller but site after site after site was spewing out the same mind-boggling fares. No way was I going to pay close to $2,000 for a crappy flight to Europe. The biggest portion of the blame is pointed towards the price of crude and it’s true that, thanks to our friends in the Middle East and their more or less friendly revolutions, the price of oil has skyrocketed. It doesn’t help one poor girl who needs to travel home to see her family.
Confident that airlines will start to panic at the low booking rates, I waited. And waited. Every couple of days, I would run the same searches on individual airline sites and travel sites such as Kayak.
What has remained consistent throughout is that Expedia has the worst deals, probably to offset their advertising costs. Not only were their fares higher, but theIR flight choices were badly thought out. Why would I want to fly to Toronto and then Frankfurt and finally Bologna for the same (high) price of any other one stop flight?
On the individual airline sites, Air France does have the lowest fares (if you don’t mind flying through Charles de Gaulle and walk for miles in a confusing airport where your next gate is NEVER conveniently located) and Swiss Air the highest. Why would that be? Swiss Air was nearly bankrupt a couple of years ago and had to be rescued by the Government but now doesn’t seem to do much to attract business. Lufthansa is somewhere in the middle (but, even as airlines go, their food is beyond inedible) and British Airways, my all time favourite, was not matching the prices I wanted .(Mr. Walsh, you really let me down this year – you are betraying a loyal customer who is even willing to change airports and deal with your less than stellar record in lost luggage. You might want to rethink your strategy.)
I came across travel sites I had never heard of before and there are more than you think – because I am, by nature, suspicious, I did not book the “mystery airline” deal, $100 dollar cheaper than the flight right next to it that, judging from arrival and departure times, had to be the same exact flight.
But the most puzzling experience was realizing that fares change hourly, sometimes even within minutes and I developed the suspicion (see paragraph above) that some computer genie can track searches coming from the same computer and automatically jacks up the prices. So, in a fit of paranoia, I started using different computers at random.
Finally, three weeks before departure, with my mother breathing down my neck, already busy organizing my social calendar and what meals she is going to cook, I sat down, credit card in hand, to make a decision. Bottom line – airfares.com came through for me with a mix of Air France and Alitalia combined. I will keep fit jogging to make my connection at CDG in just over an hour and I will probably sit at the Rome airport waiting for the Italian pilots and stewardesses to finish their espresso and willing themselves to fly. On the upside, Alitalia’s food will be decent to middling (not that it matters, I pack my own.) And I saved $600 from the initial quotes.
A little secret airlines and travel websites don’t want you to know? Always book on a Tuesday – it’s way cheaper. Vagaries of the airline industry I don’t have time to decipher. Just trust me on that.