Seems to be alot of world travellers around here. How do you all find the best rates for flights? I don't fly out much if at all so I just hop on one of the flight search engines and see what comes out. I always thought this was optimal until I joined the Virgin America Elevate club and suddenly I'm inundated with offers for flights with lower prices than what I can find on the search engines.
I did a bit of research and a lot of people claim that flight search engines only give out lowest advertised prices - and not the lowest price the airline is truly willing to give out. Given that how do you get the "real deals" for flights? I may need to leave the country in approx. 1 or 2 weeks and given that timeframe it looks like a lot of flights are in the high range. After my Virgin America experience it seems like airlines reward loyal customers - should I place all my eggs in one basket or is there a better way to get good deals?
As a full-time traveler for years now, I can tell you there is only one search engine that's worth using. Every search engine has the same problems, like the one you listed, the fact that some airlines (like American Air) block engines from finding their flights, and the fact that they are all limited. Except one.
They aren't limited because they don't sell flights. Because they don't make commission, they can cover every airline around the world and find the lowest internal prices. Just go to the airline's website to book the flight and you are set. In my searches, 95% of the time this finds the lowest price and best flight. Plus the interface is perfect for comparing flights. That remaining 5% is so much work to figure out that I've basically stopped.
This only applies if you have a time and place to travel already, though. If you, like Tynan or myself, have more freedom, you can pay attention to special deal sites and find amazingly cheap flights that only exist for a few hours. I mostly fly for free with miles, but that's a different topic altogether.
All of that said, Virgin is my favorite airline to fly in America, so you wouldn't be doing bad sticking with them if you only fly to their limited number of cities. Their airplanes make all other airplanes seem like they are cobbled together from spare parts, and their service is impeccable. If you want to fly to smaller cities or international cities, American Air or United are the way to go for loyalty, as you can fly pretty much anywhere with them.
Standby flying has always been a bit of a mystery to me, as I've heard stories of people flying standby to foreign countries for half the cost of a reserved ticket, but never seen a way to do it. Even after interviewing a few ticket agents, it seems impossible to do this these days, but I do have a standby trick you can use to make flying cheaper and more flexible.
Vegas is a lot of fun for a few days, and grows tiresome beyond that. When I played low limit poker I could easily play for a dozen hours a day for a solid week, but as I've crept up the ladder, I find the game more intense and draining. After six days in Vegas, Christophe and I were ready to take our winnings and stop playing. The only problem is that we had a 10pm flight, and we'd had our fill of food and poker by 1pm. For us, there's not much to do in Vegas besides eat and gamble.
Most people don't know that a guaranteed ticket for a day also allows you, at the airline's discretion, to take any other flight they have that day to the same destination. If we had paid for a 6am flight and skipped it, we could have tried to get on later flights for free, but having the last flight of the day made it easy for us to try for earlier flights. We just showed up, got on the standby list, and took the 6:10pm flight in time to eat at Gracias Madre in SF for dinner.
Catch the trend, here?
I scored all of these amazing deals by doing one thing, and one thing only.
I traveled off season.
Traveling off season or during the low season, simply put, is the time of year when a destination gets the fewest visitors. As a result, amazing hotels are plentiful as they tend to offer the lowest prices to attract customers and fill rooms. Scheduling some of my travel during this season has been the easiest way for me to secure the best resorts, vacation packages and flight deals. People always say that the weather off-season in most places is horrendous (hot, cold or rainy), but often, it's quite the contrary. If you're ok with a day or so of possible shoddy weather, traveling when there aren't many other tourists around is an attractive option for many. During my stay at each of these locations, the weather didn't hint at anything out of the ordinary (with the exception of Bali). In fact, I couldn't have asked for better weather.