Trip Coach: October 31, 2006

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Nicola Corrigan, Cheapflights.com's "deal hunter," answered your questions about booking holiday airfares

NYC, NY: What is the most cost-effective way to purchase airfare to a tropical destination for New Year's Eve?

Nicola Corrigan: New Year's Eve is one of the most expensive time to travel anywhere and flights tend to get booked early. We suggest the following:
1. It may be better to opt for a vacation package as airlines often provide special airfares just to use with packages to vacationcompanies.
2. For airfares or vacation packages try one of the specialist agents such as CheapCaribbean.com, Sunburst Vacations or Latin Discounters for Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America
3. Look at cruises specials with Vacations To Go
4. Search for Flights + Hotel for California/Florida and other domestic destinations on Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia or CheapTickets
5. For international destinations search for flights on consolidators such as Airfare planet and Airline Consolidators (listed on Cheapflights.com)
6. Try one of the low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and Spirit Airlines for flight specials.
You will need to shop around and make the booking as soon as possible. It is very rare to have specials for New Year's Eve travel.

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Oklahoma City, OK: ANy deals for December 21-28, round trip to Salt Lake City for two adults? Thanks!

Nicola Corrigan: It is difficult to get great deals for travel around the Christmas period and you should try and make a booking as soon as possible.
1. Search all the OTA's -- Travelocity, Expedia, CheapTickets. They mix & match airlines (fly out on 1 airline and return on another) so have many more fares and schedules then searching on a specific airline
2. Be flexible with dates and times as much as possible
3. Use search specialists such as CheapAir.com and Ultimatefares.com
4. Search airline sites like American Airlines or Frontier Airlines for any specials they may still have.
5. Search for flights departing from nearby (and alternate) airports

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Vienna, MO.: 2 seniors want to fly to Singapore in Jan. 2007. Very flexible with dates. Would like to go from STL to LAX, maybe spend a day or two in LA, then off to Singapore for approx. 2 weeks. Want to be in Singapore on Jan. 17. Know of any cheap rates?

Nicola Corrigan: That sounds like a fun trip. You are lucky to have flexible dates, that should mean you can bag a great deal. They key here is shop around a few companies to find the best deal, there will be big variations and it will be well worth checking out the different options -- especially whether to get a separate ticket for the LAX leg or one ticket all the way through to Singapore. There are no rules I'm afraid! Some of the cheaper deals are likely to go via Europe, so if you don't mind how long the flight is you have an advantage. As a starting point I would recommend shopping around a few of the big sites that you may be aware of like Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz. They all have flexible date calendars which can help you pinpoint a good deal. It is also worth trying a specialist to Asia, who may have heavily discounted deals, like Angel Travel or Airline Consolidator. The benefit here is that you can give them a telephone call to use some of their expertise on what special deals they have to offer...

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Houston, TX: We are trying to plan a trip to Germany...we used to be able to buy tickets in advance but they are so expensive at this point...There will be 2 adults (45 and 40 years old)...we would like to leave from Houston, TX on Dec. 20 to Frankfurt or Berlin...then return to Houston, Tx from Frankfurt...any advice would be great.

Nicola Corrigan: Ah, yes. One of the few rules of airline tickets is that prices rise closer to departure and increases for flights at Christmas (and other peak periods) can be painful. You are leaving it quite late to get a good deal on an international flight for the peak Christmas period. Your best bet is to be as flexible as possible with your routing in order to get the best deal. It may pay to go via London, Amsterdam or Dublin. Certainly try a Europe specialist like 1800Fly Europe and UK air as well as other discounters like Airline Consolidator, Airfare Planet or BookAirlineTickets. A good starting point is the Cheapflights Houston to Berlin page http://www.cheapflights.com/flights/Berlin/Houston/ and if I were you I would speak to some of the specialists on the telephone. Good luck!

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Richmond Hill, NY: I want to surprise my nephew and his daughters who live in Vegas for Christmas in NY with me in my home. I am looking for the cheapest affordable fare. He is an adult and the girls are 11 and 13 years of age they would need to fly on the 21st of December, getting in around 8 o'clock, and leaving in the morning of the 27th of december. they prefer non stops, and need to get back to Vegas before 6pm. Thanks so much for your help!

Nicola Corrigan: Yoiks. Yet another late-ish Christmas fare. Remember to book early in the future you guys. This sounds like a great treat so I hope you get a good price, however I didn't promise to find exact airfares for you, just the tips. Sorry! Vegas has more competitive airfares than almost any other route so you should be able to find something good. I think for this peak period you may have to travel on indirect flights to get the best deal. Remember to try flights out of Newark, too.

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Jonesville, LA: We are going to Vegas for a wedding the weekend following Thanksgiving. Any suggestions for booking a nice vacation package at a really good prie? Any Must See / Must Do tips for us? Becky

Nicola Corrigan: There should be loads of deals for Las Vegas and it hard to recommend a specific vacation package because it depends on your budget. All the major airlines will have good deals for Vegas Packages and there are unlikely to be that much difference between them. There is so much to see that it is hard to recommend any one or two things but for a bit of high-end glitz do potter around the Bellagio, Venetian and the Wynn.

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Minneaolis, MN: I started looking a week ago for fares from NYC to
Minneapolis for Christmas. I'm trying to bring my recent
college graduate (i.e. no money) home for Christmas.How
ever his Dad and I are currently continunig to pay tuition
for his younger brother--so we're not crazy about a high
priced ticket either. Each day I look, the fares are higher.
Have I already missed the boat? Or should I hang tight and
keep watching and there will be a sale? His ideal times
would be 12-22 to 12-29.

Thanks
Mother Hen

Nicola Corrigan: Hello, Mother Hen. I am sensing a Christmas theme here! One website that claims to let you know whether to buy now or wait, is Farecast (http://www.farecast.com/). The general rule, from here on in till Christmas though, is that fares will rise...so the earlier you book, the better as sales during peak periods are unlikely.

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Bloomfield, NJ: I'll be leaving for Barcelona, Spain in early December and staying there through the spring. Some of my friends and family in the New York area would like to come and visit me just after Christmas to after New Years. Their travel dates are flexible, but the fares are naturally getting higher and higher. Any suggestions for days of the week that are best to travel during that time of year and where to find the least expensive flights? My thinking is the longer they wait the higher the fares will go ... would you agree?

Thanks
Kimya

Nicola Corrigan: Hello, Kimya. That should be a great stay in Barcelona. I am envious! The best period is to try to travel around the 26th/27th and, if possible, return after the 5th January for the best deals. Unfortunately, New Year's an expensive time. International Consolidators or discounters are your best bet for a deal and you may need to fly indirectly....and yes, the longer they wait the higher the fares will go...

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Washington DC: How does one go about finding a decent priced round-trip flight from Europe, specifically England, during the holiday season?

Nicola Corrigan: The UK is a fiercely-competitive flights market with much more brutal flight competition than the US. We have been helping consumers find deals from the UK with http://www.cheapflights.co.uk/flag.html. Your best bet is to shop around and remember that there are low-cost airlines, well-priced big name airline flights, and also charter airlines. It is hard to find prices in one place so you need to do a bit of leg work to find the best deal.

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Detroit Lakes, MN: When is the best time (day) to plan a trip, lowest cost during the week, and how far in advance should one make reservations? Is waiting to the last minute and tring to get in on special deals, ie. last minute.com, hobbit, etc usually good deals? Thank you

Nicola Corrigan: First, let's start with the best day of the week to travel. Assuming it's not a holiday period, Saturday is sensational. That's because weekend trips begin on Fridays, and usually end Sundays. Saturday isn't exactly a dead day for travel, but it can come close.
As for time of day, avoid first flight outs in the morning, and last flights back at the end of the day. They're full of business travelers, folks willing to pay a premium to do there-and-back day trips. That reduces the inventory of discount airfares on those flights.
Companies specializing in last-minute discounts often deal in what the airlines call "distressed inventory," seats that aren't selling for some reason or anothe. You can land some amazing deals this way -- but they may not always be on the routes you want, or out of the airports that are closest to your home.
Best bet: book and buy well ahead. 21 days is optimum. Also, be flexible as to your destination airport - Oakland, for example, instead of San Francisco; or Islip, long Island in lieu of JFK.

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Tupelo, MS: I don't see many good deals leaving our nearest large airport, Memphis, do you have a list of waht may coming up soon?

Nicola Corrigan: Memphis is a classic case of a place dominated by one airline: Northwest. Such dominance almost guarantees a dearth of great deals out of that airport. The only real low-fare competition in Memphis is AirTran. You might consider looking at AirTran's fares for flights that connect via Atlanta. Some good one-stop deals are sure to pop up.
An alternate strategy: drive to Birmingham, Nashville, or Jackson and catch Southwest. Sure, you're going to spend about three hours on the road, but the savings could be worth it. Southwest offers great nonstop service out of Nashville, one of its focus cities. It is also a major player down in Birmingham, and fields significant service from Jackson.
If you're waiting for Northwest to undercut its own fares out of Memphis International, the wait could be lengthy indeed. Airlines don't reduce fares absent competition -- especially when they're trying to emerge from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, as is the case with NWA.

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