NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2006
Lesser Known Travel Sites Offer Alternatives
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

http://www.farecast.com (Currently in beta – not fully operational)

We have all seen the Travelocity gnome being brutalized on TV, taking the licks for his clients. We have seen the travel giant Expedia heavily marketed in the media. Hotel.com seems to have cheap rooms everywhere, while Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire battle for our business. There are literally thousands of travel sites on the web, including the airlines, major hotel chains and franchises, car rental companies, cruise lines, and many others. While not quite universal, many of these primary sources guarantee the best rate or fare if purchased directly from their own websites, and are usually free of any additional fees or surcharges. The question is often determining which of these sites is offering the best deal to us at any given time, considering the constant volatility of air fares, and other travel needs.

In some cases, the secondary travel sites can offer air fares or rooms when the direct sellers show no availability. Recently, I had to book a flight on short notice to attend a just called meeting. A visit to the airline website I know by experience has the best connections, showed the needed flights were sold-out, with no seats available on the connecting flight. A look at two major online marketers of travel services showed the same airfare and flights, but allowed me to book my desired segments, the exact same flights I could not book directly. For the five dollar fee charged by the selected online service, I got my confirmation and reserved seats on my first choice flights. I have also had similar experiences booking hotel rooms at popular destinations, where the hotel website showed no rooms available, but the travel sites showed rooms available at good rates. It has been mentioned in the media that some travel sites contract for rooms for resale on their websites.

I have also found that different travel sites will often quote different rates for the same dates and circumstances. As an example, I experimented with a set of dates for flights to, and rooms in Las Vegas on specific dates. Many airlines fly to Las Vegas, and it would be too time consuming to check all of the relevant airline websites. There were several hotels I was checking on for those dates, first on the hotel website, and then on the major travel sites. I found an often large variance in the airfares listed by different sources, and hotel rooms available at the same location for widely varied rates. I was careful to specify, when possible, the type or grade of room to be sure I was comparing the same room class. A wise traveler may be able to save quite a bit of money by shopping around and comparing websites. The problem is often one of available time and willingness to shop around.

There is a website that is growing in popularity, at http://www.kayak.com. While this website is not unique in the service it provides, and has direct competitors, I have found it very reliable. Kayak searches many of the other major travel websites, airlines, rental car companies, and hotel sites, and displays the best fares or rates found, along with a direct link to the location that offered that best deal. Since Kayak searches multiple websites, it is not beholden to just a few sources. In my Las Vegas example, when looking for cars, Kayak allowed the selection of any or all of 14 car types or sizes. It searched 11 different rental car websites, as well as the major travel websites. In some cases, it found the best rates at the rental company site, in other cases, on another travel website. It does the same for airfares, hotels, and other travel services. Kayak can be a good choice if one wants to find the best deals currently available, but does not want to search a lot of separate websites.

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Another website that takes a different approach to airfares is http://www.farecompare.com. It provides information on airfare trends and changes, and lets the user know where in the matrix provided the best fares are available. The charts provided clearly show the seasonal influences on airfares, as well as the impact of high fuel prices. Farecompare.com has an interesting business model that flyers may find beneficial. According to a statement on the website, “Our low fare deal engine is powered by the raw fare and rule data which comes directly from each airline (not scraped from reservation sites). We subscribe and receive the same domestic and international fare and ticket information as the popular online shopping sites (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz …) and process it in a unique fashion that allows us to quickly scan for the cheapest deals and distribute this low price information several hours before it shows up on these sites.” Farecompare.com is different from the other travel sites, but provides a lot of information that the traveler may find money saving and useful.

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Another website that is still in its early developmental (beta) stage is online at http://www.farecast.com. Farecast is currently only offering information on a very few cities while it is being developed, but should evolve into a helpful site for travelers. Farecast uses a graphical interface to help the user decide when to buy airline tickets, considering the volatility and wide fluctuations in ticket prices over time. Farecast recommends that the user buy now (fares will likely go up), neutral (fares are stable), or wait (fares will likely drop). If the prediction model utilized by Farecast works, it may relieve one of the common aggravations of travel, and that is buying a ticket, only to see the price go down a short time later. It may also give the impetus to buy a ticket now, when it predicts pending fare increases.

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Travel is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Finding the best travel deals may make the trip that much more enjoyable.

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