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How to find the lowest prices for international flights

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Young woman at laptop (Photo: Index Open)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 19, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, flexible search, Jessica Labrencis, Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity.

As many of you are already aware, earlier this year Travelocity disabled its highly useful flexible dates search for international routes after a dispute with the Department of Transportation (DOT) about the comprehensiveness of the fares it displayed. Despite complaints from consumers, Travelocity and the DOT have not reached a compromise, leaving many travelers wondering if there's another simple way to search for international flights using flexible dates.

In the absence of this helpful tool, here are a few good replacement websites you can use. While they aren't as simple or straightforward as Travelocity's now-defunct tool, they can help you find the best prices for international routes before you book.

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Zuji.com

There's a loophole to Travelocity's DOT dilemma. Zuji.com, Travelocity's website for users in Asia and the Pacific, still offers the flexible dates search, even for itineraries departing from the U.S. Even better, fares are displayed in U.S. dollars when you use the Australia, Hong Kong, or Singapore versions.

A Travelocity spokesperson informed me that the "Zuji website is intended for, designed for, and marketed to Zuji's Asian customers in their home countries, using their local language and local currency." Travelocity (and the DOT) don't explicitly prevent customers in the U.S. from using Zuji, so I don't see why it shouldn't be used for price comparisons.

While Zuji's search appears to function identically to Travelocity's, I caution against booking on Zuji, as it has steep service fees. I found fees of up to $81, compared to Travelocity's $5 to $10 booking fee. All in all, Zuji is a good website to use to compare fares, but you should ultimately book directly with the airline or the online travel agency that charges the lowest booking fee.

Orbitz

Orbitz's Flex Search allows three different searches: by weekends, bonus days, and flexible stays. Although the flexible search page notes the searches are for U.S. and Canada travel only, it works for airports worldwide. Depending on your itinerary, one of Orbitz's search tools could help you quickly determine the lowest prices.

As its name suggests, the weekend search displays fares for weekend trips in a given month, allowing customers to see in advance which travel dates are least expensive. The bonus dates option searches up to three days before and after the selected dates. The flexible stays option searches for flights from two to 16 days in a given range, up to 30 days.

If you're planning to travel during a specific month, or sometime over a 30-day period, you may find Orbitz's Flex Search useful.

Kayak

Kayak's Buzz feature may help you determine the lowest current prices, and which airlines are offering them, for your route and dates. After you enter your departure date, destination region, month, and (optionally) maximum price, Kayak displays the top 25 cheapest fares that have been found in recent searches. If your route is included, you can then check the fare history that shows the best fares and average fare for the route, and also for which departure dates they were found.

Of course, Kayak's search tool is nowhere near as useful as Travelocity's, or those from Zuji or Orbitz, but it can be helpful for getting a benchmark price for your dates.

What you can do

The situation between Travelocity and the DOT appears to be at an impasse.

According to a form email I and many SmarterTravel.com readers received after complaining to the DOT about the situation, "The Department of Transportation's Aviation Enforcement Office, after an extended investigation, found that the Flexible Fare Finder (FFF) listed fares that in some cases excluded carrier-imposed surcharges, amounting in international markets to more than $100, and in other cases did not; the resulting displays made what were in fact higher-priced carriers appear to be cheaper than lower-priced ones, thereby creating a likelihood of deceiving consumers into purchasing higher-priced tickets or traveling on less convenient itineraries. It is important to note that consumers were not likely to know they were being deceived or to have a simple mechanism to ascertain the deception."

In addition, the email went on to say that the DOT gave Travelocity several months to address the problem, and did not order Travelocity to disable the search, but Travelocity did so as a "business decision."

If you want to encourage Travelocity and the DOT to reach a compromise and restore the flexible dates search, send an email to travelocity@travelocity.com or airconsumer@dot.gov. You can also call the DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division at 202-366-2220.

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