Q. I’ve noticed that the cheapest air tickets have a 30-day maximum stay rule. Is there a way to get around the rule and stay under budget?
Unfortunately, most major airlines’ lowest fares impose minimum- and maximum-stay requirements, usually a 30-day maximum stay (although you will sometimes find sales with 60- or even 90-day maximum stays).
When booking with most of the major airlines, there isn’t a way to circumvent the system; you will have to book a more expensive fare to stay more than one month. However, if you’re willing to be flexible when choosing your carrier, there are ways to stay for more than 30 days without blowing your budget.
Q. Do any airlines offer flexible fares?
The easiest way to get around the 30-day maximum stay requirement is to fly an airline that doesn’t impose such requirements. And, with the emergence of low-fare carriers (which offer flexible fares), some airlines have begun to adapt their fare structures to stay competitive.
Southwest, the oldest low-fare airline, has always sold its tickets one-way, without a round-trip required. By buying one-way tickets to form a round-trip, you can avoid any maximum-stay restrictions. Other low-fare carriers, including AirTran, Independence Air, JetBlue, and Song, also sell their tickets exclusively one-way, thereby removing the necessity for a maximum stay. Additionally, low-fare airlines’ fares tend to be lower than fares offered by major airlines, so it’s possible to save money and stay as long as you need to.
Though not a low-fare carrier, Alaska Airlines recently revamped its fare structure to compete with the low-fare carriers. Not only did Alaska reduce its most expensive fares by as much as 30 percent, the airline also eliminated many of its restrictions. Travelers can now fly Alaska and stay for as long as necessary.
While the low-fare carriers fly primarily to cities within the U.S., Ireland-based Aer Lingus has also overhauled its fare structure. Perhaps the most flexible of all, Aer Lingus does not require minimum or maximum stays, or advance purchases and round-trip flights. The airline has also eliminated weekend surcharges.
Keep in mind that this method of flying flexible carriers will not be helpful in every situation. If you plan to fly internationally (outside of Aer Lingus destinations), or on a domestic route that the low-fare carriers do not fly, you’ll have to spend more to book with a major carrier. And, if you are a frequent flyer loyal to one airline, it might be worthwhile to book a more expensive ticket to earn miles (or use your miles to book an award seat).
Q. What if I book with a consolidator?
Consolidators are ticket brokers that buy air tickets (primarily international tickets) directly from the airlines and re-sell them to travelers at discounted prices. While some consolidators may purchase their entire inventory in bulk, most consolidators buy tickets at volume prices from the airlines, but actually purchase tickets one-by-one as travelers book. Many of the problems travelers have with consolidators arise because the consolidators do not have control over the tickets they sell, so it's important to note this distinction before booking.
The discounted fares can be up to 70 percent less than the airlines’ published prices, and often come without the restrictions imposed by booking directly with an airline. Before you book with a consolidator, though, be certain which restrictions apply to the ticket you’re interested in purchasing. And, remember that consolidators’ tickets are almost always nonrefundable, nontransferable, and unchangeable.
Q. Can student travel agencies help?
Students, people under age 26, and teachers can take advantage of significant discounts offered by student travel agencies. Student fares are much more flexible than any-person fares. Most student fares allow a one-year maximum stay, and change fees as low as $25. That way, students can book a ticket even if the exact end dates might change, and can decide after they’ve been traveling which exact date to return. Most student fares are primarily for international travel, particularly to Europe.
Student travel agencies can also be a good resource for travelers of all ages. Student travel agencies may be able to offer specially-negotiated rates for non-students that are not subject to the same restrictions as published airfares.