Tips on Cutting Your Flight Costs

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In a blow to the frugal traveler, Northwest Airlines will now charge more money for some aisle seats and emergency exit rows. And Southwest Airlines has upped one-way fares by $10. George Hobica, creator of the website Airfarewatchdog.com, gives Madeleine Brand tips on how you can still save money when you fly.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News it's DAY TO DAY. Here is the latest from financially strapped airlines, charging for things that used to be free. Northwest Airlines announced this week that passengers will pay extra for aisle seats and for seats in emergency exit rows, the most desirable seats apparently. So how can you actually save money on those flights, other than sitting in the middle seat? Well, here with some tips is George Hobica, he's creator of the website airfarewatchdog.com. And George welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. GEORGE HOBICA (Creator, Airfarewatchdog.com): It's great to be here, thank you.

BRAND: When looking for a good airfare a lot of people first go to those big online travel agents like Travelocity and Expedia, but you say that's not necessarily where you'll find the best deals.

Mr. HOBICA: No, increasingly some airlines are reserving their best fares for their own sites. This is especially true with airlines like Alaska or New Zealand, Malaysia, Frontier, Singapore, even Delta's doing this. And of course Jet Blue and Southwest never share their lowest fares with most of those sites.

BRAND: And surprisingly, you say it's often cheaper to buy an airfare/hotel package, even if you don't want the hotel?

Mr. HOBICA: Yes. Site59.com is a great place to find these fares, these packages, you know, especially for last minute deals. I have to tell you, though, that site59 doesn't like it when I say throw away the hotel. So they're going to spank me if I say it. But yeah, I mean, you can definitely do that. Or you can just use the hotel for one or two nights. But the combined air and hotel is often cheaper than the air alone. I don't know how they do it.

BRAND: Well, George, let's say I know well in advance when I'm going to be taking a trip. Should I book immediately or should I wait for last minute deals? When is the best time to buy?

Mr. HOBICA: Well, the best time to buy an airfare is when it's lowest. And when it's lowest is a good question. I mean, one minute a fare could literally be $108 and the next minute it could be $300. So I recommend that people check fares frequently. You know, do it several times a day and of course, you know, use all the different sites that you can imagine, because fares fluctuate almost like the stock market.

In fact, just today I have a hot tip for your listeners. There's a cool fare war going on between U.S. Air and Continental between each other's hubs. So Phoenix, Charlotte, Philadelphia, all have like really great fares. You know, from Bangor to Phoenix, for example, is $188 roundtrip. It was like $300 yesterday. So you know, that's a hot tip.

BRAND: So all of you chilly Bangor residents head south or west.

Mr. HOBICA: Right. Or if you want to skiing, if you live in Phoenix and you want to, you know, escape the heat. And the other interesting thing too about when to buy airfares is that on certain airlines if you buy an airfare and the price goes down after purchase and it's a nonrefundable ticket some airlines are actually going to give you your money back without charging a penalty. One example is United Airlines is very good about that.

Other airlines are not so good, however. American Airlines' official policy is to charge $100 for a domestic ticket and $200 for an international ticket. And having said that, by the way, there's always an exception. If you whine politely to American Airlines after the fare has gone down, they might give you the refund without charging a fee.

BRAND: Well, George, all this seems like it would take a lot of time. Checking all these websites, checking them multiple times a day, checking the airlines websites. Who has time for all this, besides you?

Mr. HOBICA: Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, people can just let us do it. But I think it's not that much effort, you know, especially if you have a high speed internet connection, to save a few hundred bucks. Maybe, you know, it takes 60 seconds sometimes to save that kind of money. It's certainly worth it. I mean, especially on a per hour basis. I mean, how many of us, you know, earn $300 in 60 seconds?

BRAND: George Hobica, publisher of the website airfarewatchdog.com. Thank you very much.

Mr. HOBICA: Thank you.

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