There aren’t any 100 percent effective ways to avoid paying today’s sharply higher airfares, but old tactics largely abandoned in the post-9/11 era of low fares are making a comeback.
Last weekend, six of the nation’s biggest airlines added up to $60 to domestic round trips to help offset soaring fuel prices. On flights of 1,500 or more miles in markets with no low-fare carrier competition, prices are up at least $340 round trip just this year, according to travel pricing guru Tom Parsons at BestFares.com.
Even discount carriers, which have not participated in most of the past 13 big fare increases, are raising prices. AirTran added $30 to the round-trip price of its coach fares and $50 to its business-class fares over the weekend. In response, travelers are dusting off their money-saving playbooks.
Using alternative airports remains the best play, Parsons and other experts say.
Right now, a family of four flying from Cleveland to Key West would pay about $4,390 round trip. But by flying to Fort Lauderdale, an airport where there’s lots of low-fare competition, the same family could save $3,600 on their tickets. More than enough for a week’s SUV rental and gas to the Keys, about 175 miles away. “Even if you’re a business traveler, saving money is important, so you should consider an alternate airport,” says Parsons.
His site and others let fliers check fares at alternative airports.
Leisure travelers have more money-saving tricks at their disposal because they tend to be more flexible about their travel dates and arrangements. But that doesn’t mean business travelers are without any money-saving tools.
“A lot of these (tactics) have been used in the past but in recent years, really have not been in use,” says Carol Ann Salcito, president of Management Alternatives, a Norwalk, Conn.-based consulting firm for business travel costs.
“We’re really getting back to the basics of corporate travel cost control,” she says. ” We are advising corporate travel managers and corporate travelers to really make sure that the travel they’re thinking about is necessary.”
Experts’ top tips for business travelers and travel managers:
• Consider a bundled package of air, hotel and car accommodations. In many cases, package deal prices haven’t kept up with the pace of air-fare increases.
• Renegotiate corporate discount deals to soften the price impact of any escalators in the contracts.
• Update corporate travelers weekly about changes in fares and about what fees airlines and other travel service providers are charging, and offer advice on avoiding such charges.
• Plan ahead to qualify for advance-purchase discount fares. Airlines again are requiring Saturday-night stays on many such tickets. Not all business travelers will accept them. Some will see a chance to earn points with the boss while scoring a weekend getaway at the company’s expense. Entrepreneurs and small firms’ travelers may be more willing to accept Saturday-night stays.
• Rethink group travel. “How many of your people really need to make the trip?” Salcito asks.
• Work with a travel agency that pools the travel of small businesses to negotiate volume discounts otherwise available only to big corporations.