Travel sites set new routes to cheap fares
Like jury duty, parenthood or being married to Britney Spears, air travel is a privilege that can quickly turn into a bane of existence. Never mind that weeks before boarding many Digital Slobs have to diet like a bride-to-be just to squeeze into economy class. On top of that, long after our stomachs recalibrate from takeoff, we have to fight another sinking feeling, the one that tells us we paid too much, way too much, for the fare.
In the recent past, being minimally Net-literate about online travel agencies such as Travelocity.com or Orbitz.com was enough, but no more. Dozens of Web portals now play Spin the Bottle with the "lowest" this or the "cheapest" that. If you're determined to leave no no-frills-deal stone unturned, you might have to spend more time surfing the Web than your nephew spends battling orcs in "World of Warcraft."
Therefore, it's no surprise that new online services are springing up that offer to help you manage all the sites that offer to help you manage your traveling. Two in particular stand out. Farecast.com, now in beta, has a unique way to track airfare prices, a mix between the way Neil Cavuto tracks Microsoft stock and how your local meteorologist tracks high-pressure systems moving in from the Plains states.
After you enter your destination and travel dates, this site provides a basic lineup of fares from all the major online agencies and individual airlines. It also offers two unique things: a chart that plots how the cost of your route has changed during the last 75 days, and an arrow that predicts whether the price is likely to rise or fall in the near future.
For example, last weekend, the cheapest price listed from Honolulu to Las Vegas for early March was $302, but a line graph showed that weeks ago it was as high as $420, and it now seems to have bottomed out. And -- as farecast.com predicts with 51 percent confidence -- this particular fare will likely rise by $50 in the next seven days. So, this ticket would be a "buy."
An even newer entrant in next-gen air travel is cFares.com, which offers Costco-like wholesale prices to individuals willing to pay a $50 annual fee. Using the same Honolulu-to-Vegas itinerary, cFares.com listed a $279 fare for "platinum" paid members. Two trips to Vegas a year and your membership dues could pay for themselves.
cFares.com also offers a name-your-price service. But unlike priceline.com (where travelers must agree to a "blind buy," meaning they must buy the ticket if an airline meets their price), cFares.com will check back with you first and give you 24 hours to ponder the possibilities.
With any luck, both sites will be able to once again confine our unease about air travel back to the moments before takeoff, where it belongs.