Where are all these flight deals?
February 26, 2011 8:52 AM   Subscribe

People always tell me they found cheap flights by not buying direct from the airlines... however, when I search all the sites they recommend and the ones I find via google, they're always about the same price as buying direct from Air Canada. Sometimes AC is cheaper! The same thing happened last year. What am I not understanding here?

I'll looking to fly from YYZ (Toronto) to LAX (Los Angeles) the last week of April (around the 26th) to around May 10th. I've not found any cheaper service than just buying direct from the airline.
posted by dobbs to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The only time I have gotten a price cheaper than direct through the airline is through a consolidator or when rolling the dice through priceline. The sites like kayak just make it easier for me to plan what airline I want to use if I'm looking for the cheapest.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:19 AM on February 26, 2011

Technically speaking, normal travel sites can't get you a cheaper price than the airline because they are using the airline data itself. (This is barring the case of a fare mistake, which happens, but is quite rare). By normal travel sites I mean ones like Expedia where you plug in your desired travel dates and you see all of the options for those dates.

The benefit of searching on sites like Expedia, Kayak, etc. is that sometimes they put together routings that you would not be able to do yourself on the airline site. For example, one of the Kayak options for your dates is a multi-carrier routing that uses both United and Air Canada. You probably can't book that at the Air Canada site. Sometimes those routings are cheaper.

Other things I've seen on travel sites are flight combinations that you don't see on the airline website, like routing through a different hub than the usual one. These kinds of routings can require creative searching on the airline's website, such as using the multi-stop search option.

Priceline and Hotwire can get you a cheaper flight by taking away some of your choice in the matter, since you don't get to pick the time of travel or the airline. These tickets are restricted even more than regular coach tickets, for example you can't even earn frequent flyer miles on them.

Practically speaking, those are your two options - if you have flexibility in your travel times on a certain day, you can save money with Priceline or Hotwire. If you want to travel at a specific time or on a specific airline, then you are kind of stuck with using a travel site or buying directly from the airline. Even though I almost always fly on the same airline, I like to see what the various sites say are the travel options. Then I go to the airline's page and try different searches until I get the combination I want.

on preview: zephyr_words mentions consolidators, which I have never really had any luck with so I don't even bother.
posted by cabingirl at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2011

I've used Kayak to find some great flight deals. You can't buy directly from them, but Kayak will give you dates/routes that you might not have found otherwise.

To find the absolute cheapest fares, search using flexible dates. The cheapest route might mean weird connections, long layovers, and red-eye flights. Also try looking for two one-way flights instead of round trip. I just did a quick Kayak search and found a one-way ticket on American Airlines on April 29th for $271.

Monitor and research often because fares go up and down all the time. I recently bought a ticket from Montreal to Paris for only $330 CAD!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2011

I've always had the same experience as the OP. I've assumed it was because in Canada, the only real choices are WestJet and Air Canada. Whenever I've tried various travelocity-type sites I've found the alternates to these 2 choices for Canadians tend to be more complicated arrangements involving American airlines, stopovers in Chicago, etc, at around the same price.

The good deals tend to be (in my experience) involving little-known regional flight deals within the United States, where there's stiffer competition. Ditto in Europe, where there are dozens of regional carriers. (That said, even in Europe I've found the best option is often to find the deal on an discount travel site, then go to the specific airline website and book the deal through them. Tends to be a bit cheaper.)

Finally, familiarize yourself with Canada's main charter airlines - Sunwing, etc. If you're flying international you can sometimes find better deals that way.
posted by nicoleincanada at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2011

When I hear about things like this, I usually presume people are fudging the truth so they can brag, like they do when talking about their gas mileage, or what a bargain they got when negotiating to buy X.
posted by annsunny at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2011

I'm with OP--at least with Canadian airlines. I've never seen domestic/North American AC tickets anywhere cheaper than on the AC website. For international flights, I find consolidators and travel agencies will often give you much better deals though.

What sites like travelocity or expedia do is they sometimes offer you cheaper all round deals by giving you a trip with a two or more airlines. But as mentioned above in Canada, since you only get WJ and AC, this is not practical.

The best way to get cheap tickets using Canadian airlines I've found is to just buy round trips as two one ways, since there's no longer any discounts to buying both legs at the same time. I will often buy one leg on sale and wait for either WJ or AC to sell me the other leg at their next sale.
posted by reformedjerk at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2011

I think a lot of people are remembering from a few years ago, when they first formed their habits. I have no idea about Canadian airlines, but for me, buying from the airline is generally better (and I often get bonus miles or something). Not to mention that a number of discount airlines don't even show up on these sites, so my Expedia-obsessed friends are eliminating the possibility of flying Virgin, etc. And I've heard about too many cases of airlines and discount sites playing hot-potato when there's a problem with the tickets.

I still try places like Kayak, etc., but ...
posted by wintersweet at 1:20 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Glad to know it's not just me.

I just did a quick Kayak search and found a one-way ticket on American Airlines on April 29th for $271.

Yeah, but I can travel on the 26th one way on Canadian for $219.
posted by dobbs at 8:01 PM on February 26, 2011

I used to be that person. I would check the travel sites and find awesome deals and then go to the airline sites and I just wouldn't get those prices, even using fare calenders. Lately, however, I'm finding the reverse. Last week I bought plane tickets, nonstop, for a really good price by using Airline X's site. The travel website prices were literally hundreds of dollars more, no matter how much I played with dates and times.
posted by cooker girl at 5:07 AM on February 28, 2011

Many of the airline sites have a low price guarentee, so you're unlikely to find a cheaper price elsewhere. The main advantage of the discount sites is that you can compare the airlines easier (and then just go buy the same ticket you found directly from the airline if you want). Another area you might eek out an advantage pricewise is if you're booking a flight and hotel package (or hotels in general) the discount sites might save you some money. I've certainly been able to find those savings in the package or hotel areas, but never one a straight flight. I suspect people are either really just choosing a different cheaper airline, or thinking they're saving money when it would have been the same price.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2011

I have only ever had this happen once, using hipmunk and orbitz. (Canadian flight to Hawaii via Seattle and San Francisco)
posted by titanium_geek at 5:52 AM on October 16, 2011

« Older How can I stop my 7 yo daughter from picking her...   |   My bag smells terrible. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.