to travel / european flight bargains

In 2009, I went to Europe 3 times for vacation, thanks to great flight deals!
– May, United Airlines, LGA-IAD-Rome. $300. Booked through CheapTickets.
– September, Delta Airlines, JFK-Zurich. $240. Booked through Delta.
– October, Delta Airlines, JFK-Barcelona. $300. Booked through Delta.

In 2011, I will be visiting again for $260, American Airlines, JFK-BCN. Booked through AA.

Here are some tips on finding your own deal:

1) Timely information. Subscribe to informative blogs and follow the right Twitter accounts. Don’t wait for the Travelzoo newsletter – the deal is almost dead by the time a newsletter comes out. I follow airfarewatchdog, garyleff, rickseaney on Twitter. I also read Gary’s blog and check the Mileage Run forum on Flyertalk periodically (read: rarely).

2) Buy now, think later. Most deals die within hours, especially when they are mistakes where they forgot to add in a surcharge. If you’re lucky, it might last a day. Know your airlines’ cancellation policy. Delta,  Continental, and United let you cancel without a fee within 24 hours of booking. American lets you place a reservation on hold for 24 hours. Those 24 hours should give you plenty of time to think it over with your friends and confirm with work. If you have indecisive friends/family, you can even make a reservation for them. If you put multiple reservations on hold, be careful that you don’t make overlapping reservations for the same person. The airline is entitled to cancel and the process is often automated.

3) Book directly with the carrier, when possible. Booking through a third party, like Priceline and Expedia, may add to the complication, especially if you need help. For the Rome trip above, UA’s coshare, AirOne, cancelled their leg of everyone’s itinerary. It was messy and calling CheapTickets got us nowhere. My roommate (who was Elite+ on UA at the time) successfully persuaded the UA agent to put us on a more direct flight. My flight to Zurich also got cancelled (due to Delta cutting back on flights) and the process couldn’t have been smoother.

4) Be flexible. Everyone’s schedule and job is different. My current job offers a lot of flexibility, especially when it’s far in advance, and a generous vacation policy so it is easier for me to react quickly. Some friends are easier to convince than others too.

5) Check the forums. I’ve learned about major mileage bonuses through the Flyertalk discussion boards. They also discuss how to maximize your mileage.

Now on to actually posting pictures from those trips…

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