Farecast moves closer to being the one-stop shop for airfare

No one website can answer all your airfare shopping questions: when to buy and when to fly on the right airline, in the right seat, and at the right price. But Farecast, the Web's first airfare prediction site, emerges from beta status today, providing the closest thing to a one-stop shopping.

Farecast appears to be the only site that can accurately predict (at least some of the time) when you should book a fare for domestic travel, and new features debuting today aim to make figuring out when to book specific travel plans even easier. The site does have some limitations, but it looks like it will be one of the most useful sites in my travel planning toolkit.

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Farecast gives you a prediction on when you should buy a particular flight. When you perform a search it checks prices from most available airlines (except Southwest) and Orbitz. Right now you can only get predications for trips of two to eight days in length from 75 U.S. departure cities and you can only search for trips within 90 days of the current date. When you search for a flight within these parameters, you'll be given a list of fares and a prediction saying whether you should book or wait to buy.

Farecast has expanded its repertoire a bit today, adding one-way and multi-city search capabilities as well as searches from nearby airports. When it does display prices, it also now says how many seats are available at that price. Best all, you can now sign up for a "Track your Trip" tool which monitors trips for which you're shopping and sends you an email or alert tracking the lowest price available that day along with a predication of whether you should book.

I find Farecast's flight search more helpful than other travel search engines I've used. When you look for a trip, you can opt to view the fares in a grid that shows you the price you'll pay depending on the time of day you fly for both legs of a round-trip. This was very important to me when choosing a flight for an upcoming trip to New Orleans, as I need to travel within specific windows of time for both my outbound and inbound flights. When you find a price you like, you can click on it and you'll be redirected to the airline's website where you can book your fare, with no extra fees applied.

Farecast also has a neat Flexible Travel Graph Search tool that allows you to view prices for flights on your route over a 30-day range. You can search for trips of different lengths and compare prices on fares using alternate airports on the same graph. I used this tool to determine which summer weekend to travel, as some weekends had very high price spikes while others remained close to midweek travel prices.

For me, the site's lack of international cities and inability to make predictions on trips longer than eight days or for travel more than 90 days out are major limitations, though. Farecast's CEO and president, Hugh Crean, told me in an interview that the company isn't limited by its technology and can add expanded capabilities if they choose. I suspect it's a matter of investing in the necessary data and manpower, but if enough users make requests, hopefully those issues will be addressed in time. Whatever the case, I will still make a point of using Farecast for as many of my domestic flights as possible.

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