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New York, Boston, Chicago Sale to Italy, the Middle East, North Africa & India

Alitalia (tel. 800/223-5730; www.alitalia.com) is having a sale on travel from New York, Boston and Chicago to select international destinations. This sale is good for departures from April 1 through May 31, 2007, and requires a Saturday night stay, as well as a maximum stay of 1 month. All purchases must be made by April 1. Here's a little round-up of round-trip fares (taxes are included in the listed price)

  • Boston to Budapest: $654
    We searched for April 3 through April 12 on Alitalia and found $895 round-trip, with tax. Just as we were about to give up, we noticed a box above our fare results which read "Save 241 USD. Are you flexible?" And by leaving one day earlier, we found the advertised $654 fare. That's much better than what we found on Orbitz. Using the same dates, SwissAir was the lowest fare at $838 round-trip, with tax.
  • New York to Paris: $574
    Our initial search on Alitalia, using April 4 through April 10 as our travel dates, turned up a whopping $1,790 round-trip fare. Again, choosing the "are you flexible?" option above our search results gave us a fare of $1,449 departing one day later. But get this! We then clicked on the $1,449 fare for further details and were magically teleported to a very bookable $623 round-trip. What kind of fun-house trick is that? Next, we searched the same dates on Orbitz and found a lower fare of $545 round-trip with tax on United/Lufthansa.
  • Chicago to Sofia: $621
    We searched for April 17 through April 26 on Alitalia, and found $1,048 as the lowest fare. Again, choosing the "are you flexible?" option above our fare results, we were able to find a lower fare of $630 round-trip with tax available one day before and after our initial selection. And this time, the cheaper fare wasn't hidden either. A follow-up search on Orbitz listed a lower fare of $611 round-trip with tax using the same dates on United/Lufthansa.
  • Boston to Tunis: $811
    Alitalia listed the lowest fare as being $1,221 (again with the option to save a bit if we were flexible with our dates). Being flexible managed to bring our total down to $1,144. And that's what we found to be the lowest on Orbitz too, excluding their $11 booking charge.

Although we're pleased that Ailitalia now advertises their sale fares at the total round-trip sum, including all taxes, we can't help but feel that these advertised sale fares require an extraordinary amount of effort to find. And in most cases, these sale fares aren't the best available for these routes.

Spirit $9 Fare Club Fee & "Big S" Sale

Want to save a little money on your next Spirit Airlines flight? It might cost you. Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117; www.spiritair.com) now requires those who wish to take advantage of their insanely low (as in 8 cents or $9) fares to join its $9 Fare Club. It's $9 for a three month trial, which will then evolve into an annual $29.95 fee. Though it may strike you as an odd and unSpirit-like maneuver (you know, actually asking customers to pay more than half a penny for something), it could still end up saving you more money than you'll spend to join. This is especially true for those who travel along these routes regularly and those living in Florida, where Spirit is based and where those $9 fares to the Caribbean are most abundant. Sign up for a Free Spirit MasterCard and receive complimentary membership, just so long as you make at least one purchase per month on the card.

For those who don't feel like forking over the membership fee, don't worry. You can still take advantage of some Spirit sales, like the current "Big S" sale which is set to expire Friday, March 30, at midnight. This sale is valid for travel on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between April 17 and May 22, as well as Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between June 5 and June 13, and also Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between August 21 and December 12. Some sample fares, based on round-trip purchase, before taxes, include:

  • Detroit to Boston: $49
  • Myrtle Beach to Nassau, Bahamas: $99
  • New York to Ft Lauderdale: $79
  • Atlantic City to Orlando: $69
  • Los Angeles to Detroit: $99

In most cases, these fares are readily available, but we imagine seats will go fast. Again, this sale ends at midnight on Friday, March 30.

Delta Expands Service in Upstate New York

As of April 8, Delta (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) will expand service in upstate New York with 22 new Delta Connection flights between Ogdensburg, Watertown, Albany, and Massena to Boston. Many of these cities were formerly US Airways monopolies. For those traveling within New York State, service will be available between Albany and Watertown with continuing service to Ogdensburg and Massena. Big Sky Airlines, which currently serves 18 cities in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and elsewhere, has partnered with Delta to operate these routes.

Spain for Under $500 in the Middle of Summer!

New York to Barcelona is just $469 round-trip, including tax, in August on Air France (tel. 800/237-2747; www.airfrance.us). This is a truly amazing fare, which we stumbled upon yesterday. There are plenty of dates currently available in August. Seats are also up for grabs in May, with a maximum stay of one month. Prefer Madrid over Barcelona? Well, you're in luck. Fares are the same price for Madrid in May and August as well! These fares are also available for departures on scattered dates throughout the summer, such as July 14, and return, for example, on August 14, but we found those dates only on Air France's own web site. Don't live in New York? Well, in some cases, the extra ticket to New York you'd need to buy to make the connecting flight to Spain will still be less than the single-fare, direct flight. See for yourself. For example, we found Seattle to New York JFK in August for $240 round-trip. But Seattle to Spain was running at $1220 round-trip on the big airfare sites. Do the math: $470 plus $240 . . . well, you get the idea. These fares are pretty unheard of for peak summer travel and will surely go fast, so we'd pounce on these as quickly as you can.

Malaysia Airlines' Phantom Sale

When we read the press release detailing Malaysia Airlines' (tel. 800/552-9264; www.malaysiaairlines.com) latest sale, we headed over to their site for a closer look. Los Angeles and Newark to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives with economy class fares starting at $830 round-trip and reduced business class fares available for $3,320 round-trip were two of the deals being touted. Sounds pretty good, right? All tickets must be purchased by May 31, for departures through now and May 31 and departures from August 16 through November 30 as well. And expect a surcharge of $30 to $40 applied on weekend travel from Los Angeles.

Well, as of today, there is no mention of this sale on its website. Is this what it feels like to be stood up? What is going on? Thinking that maybe these sale fares might be available but just not mentioned directly on their website, we began to poke around and found these round-trip fares.

  • Los Angeles to Karachi: $920
    We found $1,569 round-trip with tax on Malaysia Airlines, using August 16 through August 23 as our travel dates. Plugging in the same dates on Orbitz, we did find a lower fare of $1,412 on China Airlines. And Malaysia Airlines comes in at third place, with a fare of $1, 417, which is a tad better than what we found on their website. Both fares include two very long and, we imagine, grueling connections. For those looking to cut down on travel time, Orbitz lists the best (and only) one stop-over flight with Thai Airways/Cathay Pacific for $5,714 round-trip. Hmmm, maybe making those two connections doesn't seem as long or grueling anymore.
  • Newark to Mumbai: $950
    We found $2,412 round-trip on Malaysia Airlines, traveling on May 7 through May 16. A quick search on Orbitz, using the same dates, gave us a much lower fare of $1,086 round-trip with Alitalia.
  • Newark to Colombo on Sri Lanka: $900
    We found $2,330 round-trip on Malaysia Airlines, traveling on May 14 through May 31. Checking these dates on Orbitz gave us $1,088 round-trip with Virgin/Sri Lankan Airlines.
  • Los Angeles to Hyderabad, India: $850
    Using September 12 through September 26 as our travel dates, we found $1,422 round-trip as the lowest fare. Again, we checked this exact trip on Orbitz and found $1,149 on Air India, with two stop-overs. For a tad more -- $1,310 -- you can cut back on a stop-over with Thai Air.

We've praised Malaysia Airlines in the past for having such fantastic sales, and for being so spot-on when advertising these fares. If they say it costs $680, you can be sure that it will. So we're sure this is some sort of temporary flub. Sales are always given a prominent space on their website, and we have faith that the empty block reserved for Top Online Offers, which now reads "coming soon," may soon house this deal. We'll definitely be keeping watch, and so should you.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.

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