George Hobica doesn’t know this, but he’s the reason I’ve been to Australia. A travel journalist by trade, he started Airfare Watchdog as a means to list deals from all airlines, not just the ones available via that booking service (something you might notice if you get deals emails from Orbitz or Kayak is that they don’t list smaller airlines like Southwest, just the big guys). Actual human beings look into the fares, and my favorite part– they actually post screenshots of the flights and days the deal is good for. If a fare is proving hard to book on an airline’s site, just call them up and feed the flight numbers and dates to the reservation agent, and they should be able to get it for you.
Several years ago, a tweet appeared in my stream: San Francisco to Sydney, $700 RT. Wait, what? Nonstop? Tax included? In…. AUGUST?! This seemed impossible. I quickly navigated to ITA Software’s site to check and see what day in August this fare was valid for. The answer I got: all of them. The entire month of August and part of September was available at this rate. Technically that is winter in the southern hemisphere, but “winter” in Sydney is like “winter” in LA — a high of 70F instead of 85F. A great time to visit.
Oh, you bet I booked that flight. I booked one for my brother too, after arranging to share the cost with my mother and sister in law as a birthday present to him. One does not pass up a cheap fare to Australia.
Airfare watchdog offers two really useful things for the aspiring traveler:
They regularly tweet out deals they find that are especially good — these are the things like that trip to Australia, or this current $500 deal to Stockholm:
I’ve booked several trips from fares I’ve seen in these tweets, including my trip to Iceland last year ($770 RT- woot!).
You can also sign up for alert emails at Airfare Watchdog for your city, which cover international and domestic destinations. This is a great way to get a feel for what is and is not a good deal. A general rule of thumb is: if the airline says it’s a good deal, it isn’t. Their “fare sales” are often no lower than the usual discount you get from flying Tuesday or Wednesday. Keeping an eye on prices really helps you to know when to jump on a fare, as you can better gauge when it’s truly special, like $700 to Australia (commonly $1300-$1500). You may see from these emails that fares to New York are routinely sub- $350, so you don’t have to worry too much about passing one by — another one will come along.
The final bit of advice? When you see a great fare you have to book first, ask questions later. Sometimes these fares last only a few hours. To get them, you need to be able to commit. That said, several airlines now give you a chance to put fares on hold for 1-7 days for a nominal fee. If you need to check with work/a spouse/your bank account then that’s the way to lock in a fare and work out the details later.