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FlyinAway: Still Another Opaque Approach

FlyinAway is the industry's latest approach to offering cut-rate airfares to travelers willing to wait until they buy to find out exactly which airline they'll be flying. Although it includes some familiar Hotwire and Priceline features, the system is unique. Here's how it works:

  • You start with a conventional log-in process. Although you can look for free, you can't play without paying either $7.99 a month or $79.99 a year.
  • Enter your "home departure city." The site doesn't provide a list, but it appears to be extensive, including cities as small as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, but it does not contain any foreign origins or destinations.
  • Select one of the "popular destinations" from the resulting display of 15 top suggestions. If your preferred destination isn't listed, you can enter another—but, again, the list is limited.
  • Select up to four additional destinations, the same way.
  • Click "see flights" to see a starting price for a round-trip flight to each destination. That starting price is like a "reserve" price on eBay—a point of departure for the subsequent auction.
  • "Vote" for as many of the auctions as you wish. Voting is free, but you have to be a paying member to enter a bid. The display for each city shows a percentage of "boarding passengers" who have selected that flight.
  • Once the vote gets to 100 percent, the auction goes live. FlyinAway doesn't show how many votes it requires to reach 100 percent, just the percentage; presumably, the actual numbers vary from auction to auction.
  • Once live, the auction proceeds as with eBay. At the end of the auction, the single "winning" bid—that is, the high bid—is assured a ticket at that price, and the winner's card is charged with that amount.
  • The winning bid gives you what amounts to a voucher for a flight on any date within a six-month travel window, starting 30 days after your winning bid. FlyinAway says that the date range will never include any blackouts or exclude any popular travel dates.
  • Contact FlyinAway when you have selected a date. You can indicate your preference for schedules, which FlyinAway will try to accommodate, but schedule isn't guaranteed.

Obviously, nobody has had enough time to develop any history of actual prices. FlyinAway says the starting price will always be "up to 65 percent lower than published fares" and the final price will always be at least $50 below the lowest published fares. All flights will be on "major U.S. carriers" and all flights will be nonstop where nonstops are available—and if not, itineraries will provide the fewest available stops. FlyinAway does not indicate how it deals with optional fees, nor does it specifically state that no customers will be required to take red-eye flights.

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I found the current website to be reasonably intuitive, although it does have some quirks. If you happen to enter a city that isn't in FlyinAway's list, for example, you get bumped to an annoying blank page, and hitting the "back" arrow on your browser to try to regain the entry screen instead dumps you out of the site entirely and back to your browser's home page. Also, I found an option for flights from Seattle's Boeing Field, as well as Sea-Tac, although there are no commercial flights at Boeing Field. Presumably, FlyinAway will quickly straighten out these kinks.

As with any opaque site, using FlyinAway requires that you be willing to sacrifice a choice of airline and schedule to cut your airfare. And, again as with any opaque site, having a firm grasp of openly available fares and schedules is an absolute essential before entering into the system. But if the system works as advertised, it can lower your costs. And an intriguing possibility is that you can use it to fly on high-volume travel days without paying a stiff premium. If you give it a try, I'd be eager to hear your report.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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