Every day, the airlines announce new sales, usually on their websites. Some are really good; others not so much. Starting today, this weekly column will dig deep to tell you which ones are really worth the mouse clicks and which aren't.
US Airways to Barcelona
USAir (tel. 800/428-4322; www.usair.com) has announced a new route from Philadelphia to Barcelona and with it a new sale. Is this a real deal? It would seem so. We checked at random Miami to Barcelona leaving September 20 and returning September 29 and found a $552 round-trip with all taxes on usairways.com compared to $591on Iberia and a hefty $731 on American for the same dates. For a September 12 departure from Charlotte and a return a week later, USAir wanted $655 round-trip; the next lowest fare was on Delta for $866. Travel must be completed by October 28, and there is no stated last date to buy fares. Departures run Monday-Thursday.
Airtran System-Wide Sale
Airtran (tel. 800/247-8726; www.airtran.com) is having one of its frequent system-wide sales this week, and the deals are real. Other airlines are matching on some routes -- sort of. For example, you can fly from Charlotte to Bloomington, IL for $79 one-way, or $158 round-trip, and although United, the only other airline flying the route, has the same $158 round-trip deal, its one-way fare is $20 more. Similarly, Denver to Akron is $119 one-way on Airtran (Frontier is matching) but $60 more on other carriers (the round-trip fare is the same on all of them). The sale runs until August 16, requires a 10-day advance purchase, and is not valid for Friday and Sunday flights. Travel must be completed by November 17. For more, go to www.airtran.com/specials/sale/index.jsp.
Aloha Transpacific Sale
Aloha Airlines' "Transpacific Specials" sale is good for travel through September 5, with a last day of purchase August 12. Fares are listed at $159 each way Tuesday-Thursday and $199 Friday-Monday, before fees and surcharges, on six nonstop routes between California and certain Hawaiian airports, including San Diego to Honolulu. All fares can be bought one-way. We never have much luck finding sale fares using Aloha's booking engine, and you're usually much better off using the flexible date search function on Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) when looking for a fare on the airline. But surprise! After a bit of effort, using Travelocity we actually found lower $116 one-way (with all taxes) on the San Diego-Honolulu route -- an excellent price--for mid August travel (the same fare is available via Aloha's Web site, even though it's not being promoted there and it's much harder to find). If booking on Aloha's site (tel. 800/367-5250; www.alohaairlines.com), look for the "August Special Fare" designation and be sure to search by price, not schedule.
Hawaiian's Nonstop Sale
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines (tel. 800/367-5320; www.hawaiianair.com) is having its own sale on nonstop flights between the mainland and Maui or Honolulu, with fares ranging from $298 (San Jose to Honolulu Monday-Thursday) up to $458 (Seattle to Honolulu weekends) round-trip, depending on day of travel and route. Availability varies. Using Sacramento/Honolulu as an example, we found it almost impossible to construct a reasonable one-week stay at the lowest fare, using Hawaiian's booking engine, but we were able to find a November 21 outbound and December 6 return flight for $416 round-trip including taxes, which was near the promotional fare. For the record, those same dates on Travelocity returned a lowest fare of $478 round-trip including taxes, also on Hawaiian, which shows that Hawaiian sometimes sells seats on its site for less than you can find on third-party sites like Orbitz and Travelocity.
However, if you're totally flexible, we discovered that even the $416 fare could be beat on the Sacramento/Honolulu route. Again, using Travelocity's flex date search, on Monday of this week we found a fare of $336 round-trip, also on Hawaiian, for travel Friday-Sunday through September 9, with a two-day advance purchase (that fare is now history). Using the same dates on Hawaiian's site we found an even lower $317, or about $20 less than on Travelocity and a full $100 less than the sale fare. So in other words, just because it says "sale" doesn't mean that you can't do much better if you cross-check multiple sites and you're flexible.
Hawaiian's best deals, however, are from Las Vegas or Los Angeles to Honolulu at $169 and $129 each way respectively (the fares back to the mainland are a bit higher). Seats are readily available if you're flexible. You will not find these fares on third-party booking engines like Travelocity (the lowest fare we found one-way from Las Vegas to Honolulu was $219, or $50 higher, for example). Go to www.hawaiianair.com/specials/hal/fall2005specials.asp?source=FALL05 for additional information.
USA3000: Fares So Low They Don't Have Sales
One airline that doesn't play the weekly cyber sale game is USA3000 (tel. 877/USA-3000). That's probably because their fares are so low they don't need to. For example, they fly from Newark to Bermuda for as low as $79 one-way, and they have a good flexible date search function that lets you search whatever time frame you wish. To use it, go to USA3000.com and click on the "flexible traveler" box. Then adjust the date boxes for the month(s) you'd like to travel. Checking for a November 8 one-way Newark/Bermuda flight, USA3000 came up with $100; in comparison, searching on Travelocity on the same date the lowest fare was $464. Actually, we lied: although we said 3000 doesn't have cyber sales, they do send out almost-weekly promotional codes that save you a bit more on their already low fares. Sign up to receive them on their site at www.usa3000.com.
Tahiti from $550
Tahiti is probably one of the most evocative place names on Earth, but it's usually as expensive as the Earth to get there. Not right now. Air Tahiti Nui (tel. 877/824-4846; www.airtahitinui-usa.com) is offering $550 round-trips on select dates between September 4 and October 5 (they fly non stop from Los Angeles Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). Other dates are available for $30 more, for travel beginning August 23. Tickets must be issued by August 20 and all travel completed by October 5. Seats are easy to find at the sale fares, at least for now. Air France, the other dominant carrier on the route, by comparison, is charging almost twice as much. From New York ATN is offering $883 round-trips on its new non-stops.
But here's something perhaps even more interesting: Let's say you live in Des Moines and you want to visit Tahiti, using, at random, travel dates of September 15 outbound and September 22 return. We searched on Travelocity and found the lowest fare on those dates was a whopping $1,668 round-trip (all the prices in this little lesson are inclusive of taxes and fees). But how could that be, since the fare from Los Angeles to Tahiti on those dates is a mere $700 round-trip? Can it possibly cost almost $900 to fly from Des Moines to LAX? Of course not. If you ask Travelocity to cull the fare from Des Moines to Los Angeles on the above dates you'll get a fare of $284 round-trip. Repeating this experiment on Orbitz and Sidestep, both returned a Des Moines/Tahiti fare of $923 round-trip. Expedia returned a fare of $991. It turns out that Travelocity is not very good at pricing itineraries like this, although it does have the most robust flexible date search capability in the industry. Food for thought.
Ireland in September and October
Aerlingus.com (tel. 800/474-7424; www.flyaerlingus.com) is currently offering round-trips from its Boston and New York gateways to Dublin and Shannon for as low as $398 round-trip, and $528 from Chicago, for September travel. But let us save you some mouse clicks. From Chicago to Dublin in early September, for instance, the actual fares we found ranged from a low of $304 to a high of $484, each way, a far cry from the advertised deals. The Irish carrier is advertising lower fares for travel to Ireland Oct 1-15, from $179 (Boston), $204 (New York), $214 (Chicago) and $239 (Los Angeles), all one-way based on round-trip purchase. We found just one eligible set of dates on the LA route in October, although there's better availability from the other four gateways. All in all, we think you'll be frustrated looking for these Aer Lingus fares for September travel. They're only for those with the patience of Job and the luck of -- well, you know.
Cathay Deals to Bali and India: Not So Great
Cathay Pacific (tel. 800/233-2742; www.cathay-usa.com) has a sale from New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles to Bali, Dehli, and Mumbai for their "Deal of the Month" promotion. Fares to Bali range from $899 to $1,099 and to India from $1,138 to $1,562. Travel is valid between August 16 and Nov 14. Checking out the LAX to Delhi route for mid-September travel, we found that indeed Cathay was selling the route for about $80 less round-trip (at $1,203) than we could find for the same flights and dates on Travelocity. However, Travelocity very kindly reminded us that we could fly nonstop on Air India on the route for about the same as Cathay was charging for a change of planes in Hong Kong (although the Cathay fare allows a free stopover in Hong Kong, which may be a plus for some). The New York-India fares seem high to us, considering that Continental recently was selling Newark to Dehli for $998 round-trip, nonstop. And while seats to India in this sale are fairly easy to find at the advertised price, you can pretty much forget about Bali, since seats are almost non-existent. Cathay's site is especially hard to use when you're looking for dates that qualify for the lowest fares, since they only allow you to search by date, not price, and there's no flexible date search option.
Low New Fares to Guatemala on Continental
Continental (tel. 800/231-0856; www.continental.com) is having a great sale to Flores, Guatemala. Sample fares are $358 round-trip from Los Angeles and $258 from Houston, considerably less than the competition. Similar fares are available from almost all Continental cities in the 48 states. Similar low fares are available from other Continental cities. They're also offering new low fares to Cali, Columbia. The minimum stay is either 3 nights or over a Saturday.
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and other fare sales.
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