How do I find the cheapest best flights this summer?
May 20, 2014 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I need to plan and purchase the most complicated flight I've ever planned and purchased before. I am SUPER BROKE and SUPER FLEXIBLE. I'm hoping you can answer a few questions (inside) about how to plan this.

Flight 1: From Kalamazoo Michigan to Wild Horse Island, Montana - any time between August 11th and 14th
Flight 2: From Portland, Oregon back to Kalamazoo, MI - any time between Aug 20th and 23rd.

Additionally, the airport we leave from and arrive at is very variable too - sometimes flights out of DET are much cheaper than out of AZO.

my questions:

1. What is the process for figuring out the best itinerary? Is there a "best" website? is a good resouce?

2. is this the type of thing one would use a travel agency for, and if so, how can you tell a good one from a bad one - are there things to watch out for?

3. I'd love to hear, off the top of your head, ballpark, (but also please state the reasoning for) estimates of how much you think a reasonable price for these flights would be?
posted by rebent to Travel & Transportation around Wild Horse Island, MT (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I always use for figuring out which day in a set of days and which airport in a region is cheapest. It doesn't cover discount airlines like southwest or JetBlue, but it is helpful for going through the major airlines as quickly as possible.
posted by Night_owl at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2014

You could check out Rome 2 Rio. It gives other travel options like bus and train along with flights.
posted by degoao at 1:51 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

So you'll need to fly to Missoula or Kalispell. There isn't really a third option for Wild Horse Island. IME Missoula is a slightly better option - but not by much. But you'll want to search for one of those two and make sure the other option is also being selected.

Google Flights is quite good - they bought ITA which is the basically the gold standard.

I ran a search for you. Looks like 400 or so on Frontier. That doesn't strike me as a terrible price for an open jaw ticket like that.

The issue is that there aren't any discount airliners serving Missoula or Kalispell.
posted by JPD at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm going to change your life: Airfare Watchdog.

Also, if you're super broke, I would sincerely recommend reconsidering flying until you save up a few bucks. You always need some buffer money traveling, especially if you get stuck somewhere.
posted by four panels at 2:38 PM on May 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Booking open-jaw is probably going to be cheaper. However, be sure to check one-way fares and compare the prices, especially if you can get a discount carrier's flight for the second leg. Be aware of luggage fees no matter who you go with. I know someone who was recently threatened with a $100 fee to check a bag at the gate while flying Frontier. They'd been told it would fit as a carry on at the check in desk and were able to use that to carry it on.

I think $400 that JPD found sounds about right
posted by soelo at 2:52 PM on May 20, 2014

Depending on how patient you are, a one way Amtrak ticket from Kalamazoo to Whitefish will run you about $190 to 220 bucks. Return trip about $270. (This is in coach). I've done that route several times (in sleeper, though). It's a great trip. If you have time and if money is super precious, it may be worth considering.
posted by waylaid at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2014

that's more expensive than flying .
posted by JPD at 3:25 PM on May 20, 2014

If flying out of Chicago O'Hare (ORD) opens up any additional options for you, it might actually be easier than flying out of Detroit Metro (DTW).

From Kalamazoo you can take Amtrak to Union Station in Chicago, hoof it 1/4 mile to the El, and take that to O'Hare. Or if you can cadge a ride down I-94 as far as Michigan City, IN, there's a shuttle service that will take you from there to ORD. Either option may compare favorably in price to flying in and out of Kalamazoo.

Also: seconding soelo -- be sure to figure bag check fees into your calculation; they can vary considerably and add a substantial fraction of the cost of the ticket.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:37 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are really flexible, you could try to find someone on Craigslist rideshare...I've done a couple of fairly long trips that way (free for helping with driving). It would be easier between big cities--so maybe on the way back, from Portland to Chicago or Detroit or something. On the other hand, I'll second the person who said don't travel if you're broke!
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2014

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