A New Approach to Airfare

I’ve been searching for plane tickets for a good long while, I’d say. I can’t remember when exactly I started searching for my own tickets. Back in mid-2000s, I’d guess. And in those years, my approach to searching has changed over time. For the first long while, Travelocity was my go to website for searches. Then after a while, Kayak came in to take its place. I’ve branched out as far as how wide a net I cast when I do my searches as well. These days I include Portland, Boston, Bangor, Quebec, or Montreal. (Ottawa is dead to me. Sorry, Ottawa.)

It seems like each trip, I learn a bit more about the search process and come up with new approaches to get the most bang for my buck. I can’t just search Kayak anymore, for instance. I need to search Southwest’s site on its own, since their prices don’t show up in aggregators. And I search for days around when I want to go–not just the date in question.

Of course, the airlines have made things even more difficult. Charging for bags has made things really tricky, as you can’t just compare the base fares. You need to take into account if you’ll have any luggage, and how much it’ll cost on each carrier to have that luggage. Some carriers even charge for carryons now, which is an even bigger pain. But as I’ve been searching for my next trip (heading to Utah this summer), I came across an idea to make one of the new tweaks an advantage to me, instead of what I thought at first was a disadvantage.

It used to be, you’d search for a flight, and the results would always be cheaper if you bundled flights together. A roundtrip ticket was cheaper than two one ways. That sort of went without saying. But now I realized that airlines have pretty much ditched that concept completely. They charge per leg of the flight. I’m heading to ALA in Chicago, and a ticket from Boston to Chicago to Salt Lake to Boston was less than Boston to Salt Lake to Boston. Why? Because you could switch between carriers, and each carrier was having different sales. You could use those sales and combine them to hopscotch your way across the country.

Naturally, I couldn’t buy that cheaper ticket right then. I needed to square things away with work and make sure I had the time off, and then talk to Denisa to see if she and the kids wanted to come to Chicago with me. Once I had it all set, then the fare was gone. Curses!

But the approach stayed with me. What if instead of insisting I buy all my tickets at once, I just broke the trip up into smaller legs and search for each one individually? I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I’m giving that a shot this time. I’m basically doing three searches. One for Boston to Chicago. One for Chicago to Salt Lake. One for Salt Lake to Boston.

Already I think it’s paying off. I just bought my return tickets from Salt Lake to Boston, direct, for $127/person. A roundtrip direct flight was costing around $450. I think that’s a really good price for that flight. Let’s hope the other legs end up coming down some, as well.

One additional advantage I already see about this approach is that it opens up even more avenues for searches. I can fly into one airport and out from another. Leave from Portland, if it’s cheaper, and fly into Boston. (I’ll be parking in Augusta, where it’s free, thanks very much.) Breaking apart a trip into legs gives a lot more flexibility in the search, and flexibility is power.

I’m not sure if I’d do this for a shorter trip. But this is going to be a couple of weeks, which can prove to make a real difference. I’ll let you know how it goes. If I could do the whole trip for around $350, I’ll consider it a success.

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