travel, but the truth is that most of
them have little understanding of how
the system works. Buying a plane ticket
has become an almost blind purchase
for many consumers, who don’t know
what exactly they are getting for their
hundreds or thousands of dollars. The
ability to quickly snag a ticket from one
of the many travel-booking websites
has given people the false sense that air
travel today is a piece of cake.
Do you really know what a ticket
entitles you to and how much extra you
need to pay for various other services?
Do you fully understand if and when
you can return or change that ticket?
Do you know which airline actually
operates the flight? Are you surprised
to discover that the fare you bought
doesn’t earn frequent-flier miles or is
ineligible for an upgrade – after the
ticket has been issued? Do you understand what a “code-share” flight means
and how booking such a flight could
affect the money you pay and the
hassle you experience during travel?
Do you know the difference between a
“nonstop” and a “direct” flight?
The air travel system is what it is,
and there is little you can do to change
it. Short of that, it just makes sense to
learn as much as you can about that
system—its intricacies, advantages,
shortcomings and loopholes—and use
it to you benefit. Everyone wants their
travel experiences to be smooth, pleasant and even exciting—and knowledge
is the best key to achieving that goal.
So how did I manage the combination of minimal travel costs and flying
in comfort and luxury? The answer is
through education. If you want similar
results, the first thing you need to do is
recognize the limits of your knowledge
and begin thinking of air travel almost
as a science.
But where and how can you get educated? The airlines are certainly doing
nothing about it, and the information
offered by various websites and blogs
is fragmentary and scattered. There
were no books or classes on this topic,
so I learned from my experience flying
almost 2 million miles to 40 states and
more than 80 countries.
Last summer, I left my job traveling around the world with Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton as the Washington
Times’ diplomatic correspondent and
decided to dedicate myself to travel
education. I started teaching classes,
and I’ve just written a book, Decoding
Air Travel, whose main goals are to save
readers lots of money and improve
their travel life.
Now let’s get back to our original
Let’s begin with saving money.
The key to securing the lowest possible ticket price is building your own
fare—making your own “sausage,” so
to speak—and not relying on automated booking engines. To do that,
you need to access raw real-time airline
data, such as published airline tariffs
and flight inventory, on websites like
ExpertFlyer.com and KVStool.com, and
carefully match those components to
produce the best fare.
There are lots of codes. Why should
you bother learning and understanding them? I did because I needed to
save money, and mastering that science
was the best guarantee of achieving
that result. I just didn’t trust the airlines’ computer systems (or any other
booking sources) to give me the absolute lowest available fares every time.