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Travel and You

Trimming Corners on Flight Tickets for Abroad

September 22, 1985|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

Seeking ways to get low air fares, often through discount and promotional rates, is a common tactic of travelers willing to cope with the restrictions usually involved with such rates.

But some foreign-bound travelers, including but not limited to those facing emergency situations, are taking advantage of a method to gain the saving of a promotional fare such as APEX, but still get around one key restriction: the advance purchase period.

This involves having your ticket bought at certain cities overseas, in countries where the money value of the fare is the same as in the United States, but without the restrictions. One way to accomplish this is through a travel agent or ticket broker/consolidator (who buys tickets in volume at discounted prices from airlines, then sells them to travel agents and the public). He has a working relationship with agencies overseas.

Purchased Abroad

The foreign-based agency buys your ticket abroad after you have paid here. The airline then sends a prepaid ticket advice to its office in Los Angeles to write the ticket at the same price the ticket would have cost in Los Angeles--but without the advance purchase restriction.

Handled by telex, this process can take a day or two, which is still a considerable saving in time.

The midweek round-trip LAX-London-LAX APEX fare is $849, as of this writing. It has a 21-day advance purchase period. But a travel agent/consolidator (you can ask your travel agent to consult a consolidator) might get the same-price ticket for you in this fashion, much closer to flight time.

It's even possible to get a one-way APEX ticket in this way, which can be particularly useful when you're not sure of your return date. For example, the APEX midweek LAX-Frankfurt-LAX fare is $994, again with an advance purchase period of 21 days. But you could get the one-way ticket for $497, and in a couple of days.

APEX fares to Europe, when ticketed in the United States, are only sold on a round-trip basis.

'We Don't Advertise'

"There's nothing wrong about obtaining tickets this way," said Brian Clewer, president of Ambassador International Travel in Los Angeles, a travel agency/consolidator. "But we don't advertise it, as tickets are supposed to be issued and paid for in the originating country, as part of IATA rules. However, this rule, like many other tariff rules, is virtually unenforceable."

"Advertising," Clewer added, "would be like waving a red flag. However, the airlines create this situation themselves by having so many different rules and fares in different countries."

Consolidators sometimes also buy APEX tickets to popular destinations abroad and maintain an inventory, so there might be no need to send a telex. Similarly, one agent or consolidator might buy tickets from another consolidator who specializes in a certain part of the world or an ethnic market.

While this strategy may bypass the advance purchase restriction, other conditions of your APEX fare stay in effect. These might include paying a penalty for changing the date or departure point of your return flight, not being refundable, etc. Foreign-issued tickets could also have different restrictions than their American counterparts, so check on this with your agent/consolidator.

You can also use such agents/consolidators to buy intra-European excursion fares, in conjunction with flights to Europe from Los Angeles. These European excursion fares, which are much less expensive than point-to-point fares, aren't always sold in the United States.

Less Attractive

Meanwhile, the practice of buying two one-way tickets rather than a round-trip ticket, to take advantage of the dollar's strength overseas, has gotten a little less attractive in at least one market. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently approved an airline agreement, submitted under the auspices of IATA, that will increase fares from West Germany to the United States by about 7.5%.

This change, to be effective with the filing of carrier tariffs, was made to reflect currency relationships. In effect, it would raise the price about 3.3% for U.S.-originating passengers who undercut regular round-trip fares by buying two one-way tickets.

However, in other cases, DOT has turned down comparable increases due to their negative impact on passengers buying two one-way fares.

Some U.S. travelers, accustomed to the variety of fares offered on domestic routes, expect to find the same open field internationally. While deregulation in the United States permits domestic airlines to charge what fares they want, the situation is quite different with international fares. Internationally, all fares are still filed in tariffs, and airlines as well as travel agents are forbidden to charge other than these set prices.

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