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Super Sleuthing: A Undercover Airfare Report

Check out these air fare savings that may be missed without a careful search.

Korean Sale Not So Good: Better on Air Canada

Korean Air (tel. 800/438-5000; is advertising "amazing fares" from Los Angeles and New York to Shanghai for travel between September 1 and November 30. Departure from Los Angeles is $699 round-trip, and $820 from New York, both before final taxes and fees. Of course, fares can change, but on the New York-Shanghai route we found a lower fare on Air Canada, using Travelocity, for $727 round-trip before taxes ($831 all-included). We find Korean Air's site so hard to use that we didn't even bother finding out what its lowest fare with all taxes were. On the Los Angeles to Shanghai flight we found plenty of seats on Air Canada for $598 round-trip plus taxes, compared to Korean's $699 plus. And Air Canada's fares are good for travel through March 21, 2006, vs. November 30 on Korean. It's a no-brainer. Incidentally, Air Canada has the same fares from LAX and JFK to Beijing.

Scotland on Continental in September

Late summer might be a good time to visit Scotland. US Air (tel. 800/428-4322; is advertising fares as low as $333 round-trip to Glasgow (from New York LaGuardia) for travel from September 1 to October 20. But, although there's no advertised sale that we can see, Continental, which runs a Newark to Glasgow nonstop, also has some good fares for late summer travel, in many cases besting US Air.

We found a September 14 departure with a September 19 return from Charlotte for $580 all included using Continental vs. $771 on US Air, for example. For a Las Vegas/Glasgow trip August 23 to August 31, we found $621 round-trip on Continental vs. $800 on US Air (but you'd pay $1051 on British Airways). And from Newark, on the same dates the fares were $644 on Continental vs. $973 on US Air. Continental's fares run from September 5 to October 31, but since they don't seem to be part of an advertised sale (as far as we can see) these rates, as with many of the fares we quote, could change at any moment and are subject to availability.

October Deals to Dublin and Shannon

American (tel. 800/433-7300; is offering a sale for October travel to Shannon and Dublin. And here's something that we'll never quite understand: Their fare from Boston to Dublin (or Shannon) is $322 round-trip, yet from Minneapolis to Dublin is $786 round-trip. Now, wait a minute, we say: why so much more? Just for giggles, we checked the fare between Minneapolis and Boston yesterday and it was $178 round-trip on Northwest, $188 on American, and $198 on everyone else. So why does American charge, basically, $484 to fly from Minneapolis to Boston? Since is matching the Boston to Ireland fare with no stops, we'll just take the Northwest Minneapolis-Boston nonstop (and maybe stay over a couple of days in that lovely city -- no extra charge for the privilege) and then fly on Aer Lingus to Ireland. And save ourselves a lot of money in the process.

Hawaii on Sale

American has also announced fare reductions between Honolulu or Maui and the Mainland, with travel through September 28. As of this writing, it appears that ATA and Northwest are matching, but we wouldn't be surprised if everyone does by the time you read this (United appears to be matching with travel only through August 22 on most routes, but read on). Travel is valid any day of the week, subject to available seats, and there's no minimum stay required, nor -- shock, horror -- is there an advance purchase requirement: you can just pack and go. Sample fares include Boston to Kahului for $464 round-trip, San Francisco to Honolulu for $314 round-trip, and Dallas to Honolulu for $538 round-trip (although at least as of yesterday United, in a little "love note" perhaps to American, was selling fares from American's Dallas hub to Honolulu for a mere $356 round-trip, through December 15, a favor that American was returning with a $356 fare from United's Denver hub -- but with an extra cherry on top, since the fare was, and may still be, good for travel all the way through mid July, 2006).

A Super Stockholm Deal for Travel This Month

As we've said in this space before, quite simply, airlines no longer share their best deals with the Big Three (or Big Four if you include SideStep) booking engines. It's a pain that we all have to live with. Here's an example: SAS (tel. 800/221-2350; has a deal on its website with amazingly low fares for late August travel to Stockholm (you probably didn't even know SAS had online deals, right?). You must book by September 2 and all travel must be completed by September 30.

They list Newark to Stockholm at $492 round-trip plus taxes, although we found it for $400; and Chicago to Stockholm for $542, although, again, we found it for less: $450, or $618 all in. Newark to Stockholm for $400 round-trip is nothing short of stunning for August (or for any other month, for that matter). Sleuthing around, using an August 23 departure date with an August 30 return on the Newark-Stockholm route we found a total final fare of $566 round-trip. But here's something even more interesting. Here are the lowest fares (all taxes included) that we found on the Big Four booking engines, on that same Newark-Stockholm route, exact same dates:

  • Travelocity $952 (on KLM; $1140 on the SAS nonstop)
  • Expedia $636 (SAS, next lowest fare was $1147 on UA)
  • Orbitz $912 (on American/Finnair)
  • SideStep $912 (sent us to the Orbitz fare)

Now, obviously, Expedia came closest to the $566 fare on SAS' own site, and has probably worked out a special deal with SAS, but the fare was still lower on SAS' site.

And by the way, SAS has one of the easiest to use booking engines we've ever seen, with available dates at the sale fare clearly marked in dark blue type. And they actually have seats below what they advertise! Kudos to them.

Those Surprising Swiss

You wouldn't usually mention Swiss Air Lines (tel. 877/359-7947;, the airline formerly known as Swissair) and "low fares" in the same sentence. Not usually. Especially on its nonstop flights, the Swiss carrier commands a premium. But, as with the SAS example above, they do have sales, and they reserve their best prices for their website, where they're currently offering rather surprising fares from Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami and Los Angeles to Athens, Basel, Budapest, Geneva, and Zurich. You'll find the best prices to Switzerland under this sale, judging by the results of our fare research over the last week. Using a New York to Geneva itinerary leaving September 7 and returning September 13, we found a $623 round-trip nonstop flight on Swiss compared to $591 on Northwest with a change to KLM in Amsterdam (we'll pay a few bucks more for the nonstop, thanks very much). However, using the same dates, Expedia showed a $653 round-trip fare on Swiss' nonstop, just $30 more than Swiss' own site. On the Los Angeles-Zurich route -- again, same dates - the Swiss site wanted $906 all-included for its nonstop, compared to Expedia's $880 on Continental with a change in Newark. That same nonstop on Swiss using Expedia? $1380 round-trip, almost $400 more. The sale runs through September 30; you can travel outbound September 1-30 and return through January 30, 2006, to take advantage of these savings.

Yet Another Southwest Systemwide Sale

Nothing new here, but it does mean that if you live in a city served by Southwest (tel. 800/435-9792; it's a good time to book fares, because very shortly all the other airlines will fall into line. Some examples: Chicago Midway to/from Cleveland or San Diego to/from Phoenix for $39 one-way, compared to the old price of $98 round-trip; Burbank to/from Seattle for $89 one-way versus $198 round-trip; and $99 one-way between Hartford and St. Louis versus $318 round-trip. The sale runs through September 8, for travel through December 12 with a 14-day advance purchase. Round-trip purchase not required. And remember, there are even lower fares if you sign up for their "Ding" fares at, although Macs, some browsers, and certain Microsoft operating systems are not supported.

Why Do the Best Sales Happen on Saturday?

It's a little known fact, but some of the very best unadvertised sales (and for some reason, the most outrageous "fat finger fares") happen on weekends.

Last Saturday morning, United came out with both barrels firing against US Airways -- who knows why -- reducing fares between Philadelphia and dozens of cities to levels we haven't seen in months, if ever, and with very few restrictions: there was no minimum stay requirement, and travel was valid any day of the week clear through mid July of next year. Philadelphia to Las Vegas was just $158 round-trip; Knoxville was $116, and San Diego $161, to cite just three examples. And the same deals were good to and from Pittsburgh, another US Air hub.

A few years ago, there was an $88 RT sale nationwide on Delta that popped up on a Saturday morning. And let's not forget the typo fares: the now-famous 88ยข round-trip US Air fares from this past April . . . again, on a Saturday morning. And the Delta Washington to Portland, ME $0 round-trip blooper on a Saturday morning soon after that.

And just what is it about 88, while we're at it? True, the Chinese believe that eight is a lucky number, which is no doubt why Cathay Pacific's flagship New York to Hong Kong flight is numbered 888. But we don't think that quite explains it.

One thing we do know: Why Saturday. We're not sure about the typo fares (any thoughts on that? the fare people party hearty on Friday nights?), but, for certain, the airlines launch sales on Saturday morning precisely because they know you're not watching. They only want to sell (or have) just a few seats at these prices. Plus, chances are their competitors aren't watching as closely, either, on a Saturday morning.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website,, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and other fare sales.

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