Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tips for Booking Flights

Disclaimer - I apologize in advance, this is an unusually long post for me, but there is a lot of good information here so I encourage you to keep reading :)

There are lots of tools out there for booking flights and many can save you time or money, but rarely both.  Here are a few tools I use to try to maximize savings when booking flights and try to avoid the process taking hours and hours - I've done that too ;)

Finding the Best price

No matter where you are flying to or from, there is one tool that is indispensable.  Google's ITA software matrix is the first and last place you should go to check the price of every flight.   The software can extremely fancy and helpful if you want to do advanced options like checking specific airports or airlines.  This post is about easy stuff.  More advanced users can check out this post for advanced codes.

Here is what you can do with the software

Let's say you want to fly from Buffalo to NY on January 14th and return to Buffalo on January 23rd.

Go to the ITA software matrix and put it your travel days and click search

If you aren't sure exact dates, you can change from "search exact dates" to "calendar of lowest fares" and you can search based on the start of your trip and how many days you ar planning to fly (ex 5-7 days).

Once you search, you wil get a menu that looks like this

There are more flights below (ie - Delta and others) that you can't see, but you get the point.

After you get the lowest price you can confirm it by going to or and every time I have done that, it has been the same price

You cannot buy the tickets through ITA Matrix, you can only check prices.  Now that you have the lowest prices, you know what you should be looking for on other travel websites.  If the flight is more than $128 rountrip, you are overpaying!

Booking the Ticket

The Simple Approach

Now that you know which price you are looking for, you are ready to book your ticket.  The most simple way to is to book the ticket directly from the airline.  This works just fine.  You won't save as much money, but you know you are getting a good price and you save a lot of time.

Even if you are booking directly from Jetblue, you still want to start with Ebates to save $1.50 ($3 if you book one direction at a time), but not such significant savings.

The Oren's Money Saver Approach  (Patent Pending)

What if I told you that you could find the exact same ticket, but get $18 back in return, 14% in savings. Well, you can!  All you need to do is send 4 small payments of $3.99 (+$15.99S&H) for your free informative DVD and I'll let you in on my secrets.  

Ok, obviously I'm just kidding about spending money, but not kidding about saving money (that's no laughing matter). I can't promise you will always save that much, but at least sometimes.  Here's how:

Domestic Travel

To get any extra savings, you will need to sign up for either Top CashbackEbates and most likely both.  I do get a referral fee (free for you( when you sign up and use them and I use them both all the time so they are well worth it.

We started with a domestic flight so let's finish that off.  Here is a comparison of prices through different travel search engines and how much cashback they give for using them through either Ebates or Top Cashback.

                         Airline Ticket       Top Cashback         Ebates

Vayama                    $128                     $15                     $9       $149                      $9                      $4  $128                      4%                     $0
Expedia                     $128                    $2.25                $1.25
Priceline                    $128                     $5                       1%
BookIt                       $128                6% (hotels only?)      $2
Orbitz                        $128                     $4                    $1.80

Almost all of them came up with the best prices, but there a tremendous difference in how much you will get back.  If you booked today on Vayama through Top Cashback, you would get back $15.  Keep in mind that you can book each direction on separate transactions and get $15 for each for a total fo $30, or over 23%, back!   Not too shabby!

International Travel

The same system applies for international travel with one important difference.  International flights are significantly more expensive.  Therefore, percentage cashback is usually more money than how many dollars are given back per flight.

Let's take an examples.

Let's say you want to fly from NYC to Tel Aviv on January 14th and come Back to NYC on January 23rd and you want a maximum of 1 stop.

Go to the ITA Matrix Software and put in your flight details

The results are the following:

I find that changing from "complete trips" to "Time Bars (below the prices on the right side) helps me visualize layovers (gray) and times better.  Below is what that looks like

As you can see from the two pictures, if you don't want to fly through Moscow (very far East), your cheapest flights are going to be Via Delta (DL) at $915, Turkish Airlines (TK) at $926 or KLM at $968 (KL).  I then confirmed these prices by going directly to the airlines' websites.

Now, let's see what the same travel websites give us for international booking.

                            Delta      Turkish Airlines    KLM
Vayama                    $915             $926           $2,000+       $936             $950           $990  $915             $926           None
Expedia                     None            None          $968
Priceline                    $915            $926            None 
BookIt                       None            $926           None
Orbitz                        $915            $926           $968

What you see is that many sites did not cover every airline option.  When an airline was covered, it was usually the quoted price, sometimes more, but never less.

The clear winner for this one itinerary is  They are the same price and give back 4% back on any booking through Top Cashback.  If each ticket is $915, that is $36.60 you get back for each ticket.

BookIt says they give back 6%, but it seems to me that it is only for hotel reservations.  If it is for flights too, please leave a comment and everyone can save even more money.

Assuming the price is the same, whenever your travel is more than $500 a ticket, it is worth it to do the whole thing on through Top Cashback, when it is less than $500 a ticket, it is better to use Vayama through Ebates.

  1. Start by researching price on Google's ITA Matrix Software
  2. Confirm prices on Airline's website (optional)
  3. For flights under $500 use Vayama after going to Ebates (Ideally breaking up the trip into two one way trips to get the bonus twice.  For flights over 4500 use through Top Cashback.
  4. Enjoy your extra savings
If anyone has anything they think gets you even more money back, please comment.