Is it worth the effort to find the best airfare??


I never cease to be amazed at just how many different ways there are to buy (or not buy) the exact same flights. I’m finally getting around to booking my seat on the inaugural BA A380 LHR-LAX flight and, to keep the cost reasonable, I’m tying it to a flight back to Europe in January. I tried a lot of different options but eventually settled on the final itinerary:

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Here’s the fare I wanted via ITA

Simple, right? Just hop on to an OTA (or airline website) and get that ticket issued. Except not so much. And this is not the first time I’ve had such troubles.

BA’s website wouldn’t give me the 12:05pm flight for HEL-TLL and would only sell me the return half BA-coded and I want it AY-coded (probably for no good reason, but wh’ev). Vayama wouldn’t sell me the long connection in Heathrow and the whole point of the ticket this way is getting that long connection.

I went to my trusty partner Hipmunk to see if I could will an OTA to my ways. It came up with an AA option for $20 less than what ITA could find, but again with codeshares that I was trying to avoid.

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Hipmunk’s default was cheaper, but with codeshares

Orbitz was closest, though getting the flights I wanted out of it was less than simple, again because of the long connection in Heathrow. And Orbitz was close to the ITA price so I figured it might be the best option.

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Orbitz was close, but not easy to find on their site

I went back to Hipmunk and did some more on forcing the booking codes and ended up with an option on Priceline, again for less than what ITA says it should cost.

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More HIpmunk, this time forcing it to show the flights I really wanted

Clicking through on that saw Priceline add on their own $7 surcharge but that was still less than ITA or Orbitz wanted and actually put the flights on the codes I wanted them.

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But Priceline adds on a service fee; still cheaper than ITA says it should be.

Every one of these options was basically the same flights and yet getting to book what I actually needed online is still a pain in the ass with multiple different price points. Sadly, I’m quite certain that the value of time I spent getting it “just right” exceeds the value of actually having the ticket that way.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

12 Comments

  1. If the fare takes you where you need it be, it’s always worth it. The rest of the trip if for fun and learning more about the world…

  2. I think that having the ticket is worth it. I’m very happy I am making the trip. I just wonder about the amount of work required to get it on the correct stock/marketing/operating blend and to save a few dollars. Seems that might have been a bit of wasted energy given that, as you say, having the ticket is the important thing.

  3. LOL This sounds like me, but with hotel rooms. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time goes into me finding BRG rates.

  4. Life is short – wasting hours to save twenty bucks may be good for the ego, bur is bad economics. In any case, pretty soon spending money and time (not to mention ‘security check’ indignities) to rack up status and airline miles is going to be a pretty foolish exercise. Time for a change of moniker – Wandering Idiot – anybody?

  5. This is such a tragic result of the internet era. You can now spend an endless amount of time trying to optimize every single decision in your life. In the past you would call a travel agent and say I would like a RT to London on these dates… done. I don’t think people realize how much time they spend on these decisions, as Saha said, to save maybe $20. The one thing we don’t have an endless supply of is time – is this really how to want to spend your free time?

    1. Well, the reason travel agents all but disappeared when the internet arrived, was because everyone finally figured out they were being screwed.

  6. The only people who use travel agents I have found are not the most cost sensitive, to say the least. I guess you reach a point where your time is worth not guaranteeing you get the right fare etc. I know some people like this, but they are blind to elite benefits, and never seem to book the same airline twice.

  7. I have been fighting the same battle with trying to get an Eastern Europe ticket to price excactly as at ITA, like you, the closest I have gotten is Priceline via Hipmunk, and I can’t figure out to replicate directly in Priceline’s limited interface.

  8. Our life, our time, and it is perfectly fine for us to decide to spend it on things we enjoy. A tennis player hits a ball till some guy can’t return it, a golfer tries to push his into some hole, sports fans spend money to clap and howl to watch somebody catch it or not catch it, and video game folks are busy killing non-existent aliens. Nobody asks if they are getting a good value for their time. All that matters is they are enjoying themselves. The same applies to people like you and me. Pursuit of travel with its finer details makes us happy and we needn’t listen to those who are tone deaf in this area. 🙂

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