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ON A BUDGET

Plunging Into the Web of Internet Bargains

October 15, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

The bewildering welter of travel offerings on the Internet is such an embarrassment of riches that bargain air fare seekers can be forgiven for being confused or intimidated. But it is possible to reach your goal efficiently and without excessive detours. I've boiled down the process to four basic steps, which should be done in order:

Step 1: Access the big, high-profile sites first. Sites such as Travelocity.com, Expedia.com or TheTrip.com list the major airlines' official published fares for the route and date in which you're interested. Write these fares down for comparison. (Some might turn out to be the lowest you'll find.)

Step 2: Check sites offering special discounted fares. These include CheapTickets.com, LowestFare.com, TicketPlanet.com, LastMinuteTravel.com and AirOutlet.com. Sometimes they'll undercut the lowest openly published airline fares.

Step 3: Compare non-Internet sources at http://www.frommers.com (excuse the conflict of interest). My Web site also covers all the non-online discount travel resources. We list them and their toll-free phone numbers under "Hot Tickets"; from there, click on "Top Air Fare Consolidators." This requires a detour from the computer to the telephone, but it might just net you a lower fare than Steps No. 1 or No. 2, from companies such as Travel Bargains, (800) AIR-FARE, (800) FLY-CHEAP, Cheap Tickets and many more. For one thing, these companies tend to deal more with low-fare upstart airlines, such as AirTran, ATA, Vanguard and the like, which aren't always represented on the Internet services.

At the end of Step 3, write down the cheapest fare you've obtained so far.

Step 4: See whether you can do better at a "name your own price" site. Take the lowest fare you've gleaned so far and reduce it by, say, 20%. Go to Priceline.com or to the "Flight Price Matcher" service of Expedia.com and enter that number. (Remember, you'll have to commit yourself by supplying your credit-card number.) Occasionally you'll get the super-discounted rate. If not, return to the lowest fare obtained under Step 1, 2 or 3.

Whatever fare you end up with, you can be content knowing that you've shopped around about as much as a consumer can in this day and age.

Other resources for Web-savvy travelers:

* Invest in a copy of "Michael Shapiro's Internet Travel Planner" ($18.95, Globe Pequot Press), with 272 pages of information and strategies on how to research destinations, buy travel and sniff out the best deals available online. You can check it out at http://www.internettravelplanner.com.

* Don't forget about the weekend "e-fares" offered by most major airlines only on their Web sites. Available three or four days in advance, they're usually good for departures on Saturday and returns on the following Monday or Tuesday.

* Ever wish you could ask a guidebook writer questions about some location she or he has written about? The site Guidebookwriters.com has a stable of about 75 writers from just about every well-known series on the market. They will answer any questions you want about a destination for a fee of $25 per 20 minutes. Obviously, the more specific your questions, the more worthwhile this service is.

RulesoftheAir.Com is a site operated by an expert in the commercial-air market. As a public service, the author, Terry Trippler, sets forth the rights of the air-travel consumer--because what you don't know can sometimes cost you money.

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