So your cruise is booked but it is not within convenient driving distance, forcing you to fly. Booking airfare with the cruise line may appear to be the easy way to go and cruise line airfare often includes transfers to and from the port. But before you go that way, consider the following list of tips that can make the whole process more efficient, smoother and often less expensive.
- Check the Big Websites. www.Travelocity.com, www.Expedia.com and www.Orbitz.com are good at keeping up with the latest deals and sales but don’t list every airline. They are a good place to start, though. My favorite is www.Cheapoair.com right now but that could change if someone else does a better job of it. This is just research at this point but important. Start looking for flight information now even if you don’t plan on buying for months. Getting an idea of flights that will work for you and the going rate familiarizes you with what is available so when a fabulous value comes along, it will jump off the page at you.
- Forget Your Travel Agent, Briefly- Frankly, this is one area of travel where for the most part you can do this yourself in a much more efficient manner. Unlike the travel agent factor you need in the cruise booking part, the airfare part has few variables and each one is quite personal by nature. When flights leave, what airline, where you seats are, the price, are all variables that can be quickly manipulated in the research phase but once locked in are not apt to change. Once air is booked, you’re done. If you do use a travel agent, expect to pay a reasonable fee for their time. Unlike cruise bookings, airlines generally don’t pay them a commission.
- Visit the Airline Websites Directly. Now that you’ve found a good deal, visit that airline’s website directly. The sites listed in steps 1 and 2 charge booking fees to pay their bills. You should be able to find the same flights on the airline site for $10 – $20 cheaper on a roundtrip flight, most of the time. You benefit from buying your cruise with a travel agent working for you. Buying directly from the cruise line is hardly ever a better value. Even when cruise lines occasionally offer “free” airfare, it often is not, they just raised the price of the cruse fare. So consider total cost for both in that case. Buying directly from the airline, though, can be a better value if you’re lucky.
- Consider Discount Airlines. Most of them do show up on the above search engines, but not all. Southwest Airlines often has low fares or sale fares, but you have to visit their website (www.southwest.com) to find them. JetBlue is another that has regular sales that can beat the competitors (jetblue.com).
- Fly Midweek. Most of the least expensive airfares will involve traveling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You may also be able to find cheap fares for travel on Thursdays or Saturdays, as well. Mondays and Fridays will be the most expensive, on average, due to the merge of business travelers and weekend vacationers on those days. Often you can save enough here to pay for a night in a hotel before the cruise. This is ALWAYS a good idea not only for the savings and getting to start vacation a day early. Scheduling flights a day early gives you extra time between leaving home and getting on the ship which you may need if flights are delayed. This is an especially sound strategy if flying from the North in the winter to the south for your cruise.
- Use Alternate Airports. Many major cities have more than one airport to choose from. For Chicago, you can choose O’Hare or Midway. For New York, you have LaGuardia, JFK and even Newark NJ. When booking your flights, consider these alternates as they can save you money. They are not a deal, however, if the cost of getting from the airport to your hotel in the city is more than the savings.
- Use Booking Windows to Your Advantage. Most airlines have booking windows during which rates change. Generally, these are 21 days, 14 days and 7 days prior to your departure date. The closer you get to your departure date, the more your airfare will be. On the flip side, airlines like Southwest do not allow you to book more than a few months in advance so you have to wait. One way to make this work for you is to add on the cruise line airfare when you book the cruise. If you find flights and prices that work better for you later you can usually cancel your cruiseline airfare without penalty. Just make sure to do so before you make final payment on your cruise.
- Be Flexible on Dates. Sometimes leaving a day earlier or later can make a difference in the price. Many of the top travel sites allow you to factor this into the search, but if it doesn’t, be sure to check on your own, if you have the flexibility on dates. See #5 for more info here. Flying to Miami, for example, can often be so much less expensive a day or two earlier that the savings more than pay for a hotel room.
- Try Last Minute and Bidding Sites. If you aren’t that picky about your airline, these may be a good way to go. After you’ve found the lowest price via the above means, use that information to place a bid on priceline.com, to see if you can get it a bit cheaper. Be warned though, you won’t know your airline until after you pay. Hotwire.com doesn’t make you bid, but like Priceline, it also doesn’t let you see the airline until after you’ve paid.
- Sign Up For Mailing Lists. Two of my favorite travel deal websites are airfarewatchdog.com and travelzoo.com. Both list various airfares that are especially good. Sign up for their mailing lists (and those of the airlines serving your destination) to get the latest deals as they happen. If you’re worried about spam, sign up for a free email at gmail.com, hotmail.com or yahoo.com and use that.
If you follow these tips you may be able to save enough on airfare to afford a nice little splurge once you get to your destination.
This article is brought to by Cruise Compete. CruiseCompete.com allows you to easily compare multiple offers from Cruise Experts.