For Discounted Airfares Uses These Top "Bucket Shops"

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By working with an airfare discounter, you can save as much as 50 percent off the cost of your next ticket

In the past decade and a half there's been a veritable explosion in the number of airfare discounters operating in the United States. And while as many as half limit themselves to the sale of international tickets--to Europe and Asia, to Central and South America, to Africa and India--a good number of the larger sellers routinely promote cut-rate tickets within the US, saving consumers as much as 30 to 50 percent off the cost of a domestic flight.

A few of the domestic airlines confine that sale to limited periods of the year; some confine the destinations to long-range flights (like between Boston and Los Angeles); some to particular days of the week. But there are indications that the possibilities will grow, and at least ten major consolidators now claim that they have frequent supplies of domestic air tickets for sale at discounted rates. I list them in no particular order of preference:

For airfares within the US

1-800-FLY-CHEAP(800/FLY-CHEAP) Large (more than three million tickets since it began in 1989) firm claiming to offer savings on most advance-purchase tickets. A subsidiary of industry giant My Travel Group. Web: flycheap.com.

Cheap Tickets, Inc.(800/377-1000) This giant among air consolidators can cut the price of an advance-fare ticket practically anywhere in the world by 15 to 25 percent, very often more. Web: cheaptickets.com.

Cheap Seats Travel(800/243-2773) A primarily domestic specialist (though there are many international options) that offers discounted prices for flights on several major carriers. The firm also works with several smaller upstart carriers, offering discounts of around 20 percent off published prices and up to 70 percent off last-minute deals. Web: 1800cheapseats.com.

AirDiscounts(866/4LOWAIR) A division of Archer Travel Service, Inc. (in business since 1952), AirDiscounts.com lets you search for roundtrip, one-way and multiple city flights online but recommends that you call it directly for the lowest fares. Web: airdiscounts.com.

CheapAir, Inc.(800/CHEAP-AIR) A division of American Travel Associates, this 15-year-old specialist in domestic airfares offers flights to smaller cities, last-minute savings and some international bookings. Its discounts average 25 percent. Web: cheapair.com.

Both domestic and international airfares 

Priceline.com(Internet only, call 800/774-2354 for customer service) You specify the price you're willing to pay to fly to and from a city on particular dates. If an airline accepts your price, you're obligated to fly on the routings and times of day they choose. An immense firm that can save travelers up to 40 percent off published fares. Web: priceline.com

Hotwire(Internet only, call 866/HOTWIRE for customer service) Travelers choose their itinerary and Hotwire fires back the lowest price. Discounts are available on cars and hotels as well as air tickets. The four-year-old company is owned by several big airlines. Web: hotwire.com.

Orbitz(Internet only, call 888/656-4546 for customer service) Not a consolidator per se, Orbitz offers fares from a choice of over hundreds of airlines. Pick the dates and Orbitz provides a list of the cheapest airfares. Car rentals and hotels rooms are some other features available on the site. Web: orbitz.com.

Expedia The largest of the web-only air sellers. On its site, along with car rentals and hotel discounts, is a build your own package feature, allowing customers to book air and hotel in one easy step. Go to  expedia.com  or call 800/EXPEDIA to learn more.

Transatlantic airfares

Destination Europe Resources(800/717-4247 airfares; 800/782-2424 other travel products) Acquired by the Rail Europe Group, this long-established firm that claims to provide discounts of 20 percent to 35 percent on advance-purchase European airfares also offers a full range of other discounted travel services. Web: http://www.dertravel.com/.

STA Travel Inc.(800/777-0112) STA is the major student travel firm with tickets to Europe (25 percent to 30 percent off published fares, it claims) but offers domestic savings as well. Cheap backpacker-friendly hotels and hostels worldwide are another specialty. Web: http://www.statravel.com/.

1-800-FlyEurope: (800/FLY-EUROPE) Today, Destination Europe accounts for more than 50,000 tickets annually (including packages). In addition to air tickets, the company offers discounted rates on car rentals and more than 2,500 European hotels. Web: http://www.1800flyeurope.com/.

Ireland/UK Consolidated(800/577-2900) Specializing in airfares to Ireland and the UK, the company claims to save travelers up to 30 percent off published prices. Ireland/UK Consolidated has been operating for over 30 years. Web: ukair.com.

Sophisticated Traveler, Inc.(800/801-1055) Provides some of the best prices on Swiss Airlines to destinations in all major cities in Europe leaving from the major US gateways. It specializes in tours to Central and Eastern Europe, including packages to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Web: s-traveler.com.

Airfares to Latin America

Travel Partners, Welcome to Travel(800/247-6578) This high-volume discounter, over 20 years old, offers a considerable saving on tickets to Central America and Latin America. Web: pinotravel.com.

Solar Tours(800/388-7652) One of the largest and longest established of the consolidators to Latin America. Can nearly always save 20 percent to 30 percent off published advance-purchase fares, sometimes more, using most major carriers. Web: solartours.com.

Airfares primarily to Africa

Magical Holidays(800/228-2208) One of the major discounters of airfares to Africa, typically offering 25 percent (or more) off advance-purchase fares. Also offers some of the best prices for safaris.

Premier Travel(800/545-1910) A 21-year-old that's one of the largest consolidators of African airfares, selling for as much as 30 percent off standard rates. Also offers well-priced land packages and safaris. Web: premiertours.com.

Airfares primary to Asia

Festival of Asia(800/880-ASIA) A specialist in southeast Asia and India, this San Francisco firm offers savings, it says, of 25 percent to 35 percent off published fares in summer and as much as 40 percent in shoulder seasons.

Hari World Travel(888/889-2968) The largest consolidator of airplane tickets to India-saving customers a third, on average, off any advance-purchase ticket. For tickets without advance purchase, the discount can run higher. Please note that only travel agents can use the Web site. Web: hariworld.com.

Japan Budget Travel International(877/246-5284) Founded by Japanese-Americans, this firm with 15-plus years of experience now serves all corners of Asia with discounts that can reach as high as 35 percent off standard rates. Web: jbti.com.

Around-the-world airfares

Circle the Planet(800/799-8888) Owner Nick Kontis may have originated the cheap around-the-world fare with his former company, Ticket Planet. That operation has since morphed into Circle the Planet. Now his current California-based company allows travelers to circumnavigate the globe for as little as $1,250. Web: circletheplanet.com.

Air Treks(877/AIRTREKS) Multi-stop fares to transport you around the globe, at a fraction of what booking individual tickets would cost. Best priced tickets usually involve you paying for some land transportation (for example: London to Paris or Bombay to Delhi). Special fares as low as $1,300 round the world through Europe and Asia. Offers an itinerary-building template (Trip Planner), as well as the opportunity to write your own travel memories (Trip Journal). Web: airtreks.com.

Airfares to worldwide destinations

1Travel.com(800/929-2523) A full-service Internet discounter of everything from airfares (domestic and international) and packages to hotel rooms and cruises. Features an e-mail service for last-minute values and an airfare search engine that compares consolidator and published fares. Web: 1travel.com.

Economy Travel(888/222-2110) Specializes in Europe (mainly London, Paris, Rome) and some destinations in Africa, South America and the Middle East. It lists both consolidator and published fares alongside each other, enabling the public to compare. Web: economytravel.com.

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