It's a new year, and if you're anything like me, you've probably begun thinking about where you'd like to travel in 2008. Whether you plan to stay stateside or visit a far-flung destination, odds are you'll have to book a flight. There are some new strategies you may want to employ when searching for the cheapest fare this year, and a few old ones that are still relevant. Use this guide to help you find the least expensive prices for airfare this year.
Know where to look
If you're a devotee of a particular online travel agency, you may be missing out on cheaper fares not available through those types of booking websites. In 2007, new airlines Skybus and Virgin America began flying, and their fares are only available on their own websites. (The exception being Orbitz, which sells Virgin America's fares.) Skybus' prices start at $10 each way, and Virgin America offers competitive prices for travel to cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington, D.C. Southwest and Allegiant still sell tickets only on their own sites.
Other airlines' cheapest fares may be available only on their own sites. Spirit, for example, routinely offers fares as low as $0.02, but you won't find those prices anywhere but its website.
Let low fares come to you
Many websites, including Kayak, Orbitz, and Travelocity, offer fare alert services that make it easy to watch fares on a particular route. Select your departure and destination cities, travel dates, and maximum price for airfare, and the fare-watching service will notify you by email if your route drops below the maximum price.
Expedia and Yahoo! offer slightly different programs. Expedia's Fare Alert is a downloadable tool (for Windows users only) that notifies you via pop-up message when a fare matching your criteria has been booked by another Expedia user. Also a desktop tool, the Yahoo! FareChase Alerts widget works the same way as Fare Alert, notifying you when fares on your route drop below the maximum you selected.
Though it's not as customizable as Fare Alert, Southwest's Ding! program is another downloadable application. Select your preferred departure cities, and Southwest will notify you of special sale fares featuring those cities as often as several times a day.
Whether you prefer emails or desktop notifications, these fare-tracking programs take the hassle out of what can be a time-consuming process.
Try new websites
You're probably aware of old standbys such as Kayak, BookingBuddy.com, SideStep, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, but several new fare-comparison websites joined the crowd in 2007. Check them out during your next search, and you might find that one of them works better for your trip or search preferences.
Vayama specializes in international fares, offering a "massive selection" of fares, some of which were not previously available online.
CFares, a membership-only site, also focuses on overseas flights, claiming to find fares from airlines, travel sites, and wholesalers. Gold-level members may use the site for free, but for a $50 yearly fee, Platinum members have access to even lower fares. Of course, there's no real way to know if the $50 fee is worth the cost before signing up.
In his initial comparisons, columnist Ed Perkins found no discernible difference between fares offered by the two websites.
Book in advance
Year after year, the advice from airfare experts around the Web is always the same: book well in advance for travel during popular periods. Resolve to make 2008 the year you actually heed this wisdom. If you're planning a summer vacation in Europe, start looking at airfare now. Plan to travel for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Start pricing flights this summer. Even if you don't normally book so far in advance, it can't hurt to start looking early, and you might even spot a great deal.
Know when to book
Instead of devoting your weekends to searching for flights, remember that my research indicates the cheapest fares are available on Tuesdays. Airlines tend to release new fare sales early in the week, and last-minute airfares for the upcoming weekends are plentiful on Tuesdays as well. Though it isn't foolproof, it's still a good idea to search for fares on Tuesdays.
(Editor's Note: BookingBuddy.com and SmarterTravel.com are members of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)