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Topic: Travel (Read 2825 times)
January 09, 2011, 11:17:02 AM »
Navigating the Airfare Maze Online Gets Tougher
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Published: January 7, 2011
With online travel sites battling with some airlines, where does that leave travelers shopping for flights online? The simple answer is that they’re going to have to do more digging. Airlines are pulling their fares from travel Web sites amid a standoff over the fees that carriers pay to list their flights.
American Airlines removed its flight listings from Orbitz.com last month, when the companies could not agree on a new contract, and Delta withdrew its fares from CheapoAir.com, OneTravel.com and Bookit.com. More recently, Expedia.com dropped American flight listings. Delta has also notified Airfare.com, CheapAir.com, Vegas.com, AirGorilla.com and Globester.com that it will no longer allow its fares to be included on their Web sites in the United States and Canada after Friday.
The moves represent a standoff over the fees that airlines must pay to list their flights with online travel agencies. And at least one major fare distributor, Sabre, which runs a computer system that allows travel agents to see flight and fare information, joined the fray on Wednesday, announcing that it would end its distribution deal with American in August — a month before the end of its contract — and, in the meantime, would make American fares harder to see in its displays.
But American and Delta are not the only airlines becoming more selective about where their fares appear online. JetBlue, Virgin America and Spirit have increasingly been offering special fare sales only through their own Web sites. And some low-cost carriers, including Southwest and Allegiant Air, have long refused to list fares at online agencies or fare aggregators like Kayak.com, requiring travelers to visit the airlines’ own Web sites to see their flights.
So what’s the best way to search for fares now? Currently, there is no one-stop shopping site that includes all fares, but it is possible to cover your bases using only a few sites.
Start with ITA Software, which provides the technological backbone for many air fare shopping sites. It offers an easy way to narrow down the cheapest days to fly by allowing anyone to scan an entire month’s worth of fares for the cheapest rate. Click on “search airfares now” in the middle of the home page, then enter your departure date and destination and select “see calendar of lowest fares” to see which travel days yield the lowest rates. Travelers can also narrow searches by the number of stops and length of trip. But to book the actual ticket, users must go to another site, like the airline’s.
Cover your bases by adding a so-called meta-search site like Kayak.com, Fly.com or Farecompare.com, which don’t sell plane tickets but search hundreds of travel sites at once. Doing this will give you an idea of the best rates available from various sites. Each meta-search site configures its technology and accesses fares slightly differently, which can affect results. The sites also tend to differentiate themselves through special partnerships. Kayak.com, for example, receives fares from ITA Software; Amadeus, a global distribution system; and some airlines directly, including American and Delta. FareCompare licenses air fare data from more than 500 airlines via the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, which consolidates and distributes airline fares worldwide.
Before you hit the buy button, check out Airfarewatchdog.com, a site with actual people who manually search for fares and will sometimes uncover cheaper fares than the other sites. It often captures sales from Allegiant and Southwest, as well as special, last-minute fares that airlines often save for their own Web sites, like “JetBlue Cheeps” which are put on sale on Tuesdays via Twitter and listed only at jetblue.com/cheeps.
For trips to Europe, consider Momondo.com, a Danish travel search site that scours the airlines’ own Web sites as well as online agencies that focus on low-cost carriers, like LyddAir, which operates flights from Lydd Airport in Southeast Kent in Britain to Le Touquet in France. It also compares rates with more than 4,000 high-speed train routes across Europe — a valuable service, as trains are often more convenient in Europe than planes. One caveat: Because of the way Momondo pulls fares, it may show expired fares in its results.
To help evaluate prices, consider Bing.com, which offers a Price Predictor that uses algorithms to determine whether a fare is likely to rise or fall in the next seven days; this can help when trying to decide whether to buy now or wait for a better rate. Students can also consult STATravel.com or StudentUniverse.com, which offer special deals for anyone enrolled in college or graduate school.
And for those who care most about the quality of the flight experience, there are a couple of notable mentions. Rather than a long list of fares, Hipmunk.com sorts fares according to an “agony” index that factors in price, length of flight and number of connections. In a similar vein, InsideTrip.com, evaluates flights by 11 criteria, including legroom, aircraft age and on-time performance.
Cooties on planes and elsewhere
Reply #1 on:
December 20, 2011, 09:05:14 PM »
Airlines are deploying state-of-the-art filtration systems to contain flu and cold viruses from spreading. Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break to discuss how to avoid getting sick while flying. Photo: AP.
Air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection, research has shown. One study pegged the increased risk for catching a cold as high as 20%. And the holidays are a particularly infectious time of year, with planes packed full of families with all their presents—and all those germs.
Air that is recirculated throughout the cabin is most often blamed. But studies have shown that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters on most jets today can capture 99.97% of bacterial and virus-carrying particles. That said, when air circulation is shut down, which sometimes happens during long waits on the ground or for short periods when passengers are boarding or exiting, infections can spread like wildfire.
One well-known study in 1979 found that when a plane sat three hours with its engines off and no air circulating, 72% of the 54 people on board got sick within two days. The flu strain they had was traced to one passenger. For that reason, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an advisory in 2003 to airlines saying that passengers should be removed from planes within 30 minutes if there's no air circulation, but compliance isn't mandatory.
Much of the danger comes from the mouths, noses and hands of passengers sitting nearby. The hot zone for exposure is generally two seats beside, in front of and behind you, according to a study in July in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of factors increase the odds of bringing home a souvenir cough and runny nose. For one, the environment at 30,000 feet enables easier spread of disease. Air in airplanes is extremely dry, and viruses tend to thrive in low-humidity conditions. When mucous membranes dry out, they are far less effective at blocking infection. High altitudes can tire the body, and fatigue plays a role in making people more susceptible to catching colds, too.
Also, viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces—some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated, and seat-back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins and trash, can be particularly skuzzy. It's also difficult to know what germs are lurking in an airline's pillows and blankets.
Research has shown how easily disease can spread. Tracing influenza transmission on long-haul flights in 2009 with passengers infected with the H1N1 flu strain, Australian researchers found that 2% passengers had the disease during the flight and 5% came down within a week after landing. Coach-cabin passengers were at a 3.6% increased risk of contracting H1N1 if they sat within two rows of someone who had symptoms in-flight. That increased risk for post-flight disease doubled to 7.7% for passengers seated in a two-seat hot zone.
The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-03 suggested a wider exposure zone, however. On one flight studied, one passenger spread a particular strain to someone seated seven rows away, while people seated next to the ill passenger didn't contract the disease.
That said, most people sitting near someone who is ill probably won't get sick. "When you get aboard an aircraft, most of us don't have a say on who we sit next to. But that doesn't doom you to catching the flu," said Mark Gendreau of Boston's Lahey Clinic Medical Center.
In 2005, he was part of a team that published a paper in the Lancet that concluded the perceived risk for travelers was higher than the actual risk, and that's still the case today, he said.
Even so, there are some basic precautions passengers can take to keep coughs away.
Hydrate. Drinking water and keeping nasal passages moist with a saline spray can reduce your risk of infection.
Clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. We often infect ourselves, touching mouth, nose or eyes with our own hands that have picked up something.
Use a disinfecting wipe to clean off tray tables before using.
Avoid seat-back pockets.
Open your air vent, and aim it so it passes just in front of your face. Filtered airplane air can help direct airborne contagions away from you.
Change seats if you end up near a cougher, sneezer or someone who looks feverish. That may not be possible on very full flights, but worth a try. One sneeze can produce up to 30,000 droplets that can be propelled as far as six feet.
Raise concerns with the crew if air circulation is shut off for an extended period.
Avoid airline pillows and blankets (if you find them).
"If you take the proper precautions, you should do quite well," said Dr. Gendreau. "In most of us, our immune system does what it was designed to do—protect us from infectious insults."
Hidden Dangers in Security
You think the plane is bad? Security checkpoints harbor a host of hazards as well, researchers say.
Airport security areas can make it easy to get sick. People are crowded together, and plastic storage bins that hold personal effects are not cleaned after each screening.
People get bunched up in lines, where there is plenty of coughing and sneezing. Shoes are removed and placed with other belongings into plastic security bins, which typically don't get cleaned after they go through the scanner.
A National Academy of Sciences panel is six months into a two-year study that is taking samples at airport areas to try to pinpoint opportunities for infection.
With limited resources, airports and airlines have asked researchers to help figure out where best to target prevention, said Dr. Mark Gendreau of Boston's Lahey Clinic Medical Center who is on the panel. Check-in kiosks and baggage areas are other prime suspects in addition to security lines, he said.
WSJ: Seats getting narrower
Reply #2 on:
October 24, 2013, 08:09:43 PM »
The Incredible Shrinking Plane Seat
American Airlines, United and Other Carriers Are Wedging an Extra Seat Into Each Coach Row
By Jon Ostrower and Daniel Michaels
Updated Oct. 23, 2013 8:57 p.m. ET
Airlines' push to lure high-paying fliers with flatbed business seats and premium economy loungers is leaving economy-class passengers with less space.
No, you're not going crazy: airline seats really are getting smaller. For airlines, the reason is simple: the lighter and smaller models cut costs and widen profits.
Holiday travelers are skipping the cold this season and making a beeline for the beach, prompting a rise in airfare to places like Florida and Cancun. The Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.
A push over the past decade by carriers to expand higher-fare sections has shrunk the area devoted to coach on many big jetliners. But airlines don't want to drop passengers. So first airlines slimmed seats to add more rows.
Now, big carriers including AMR Corp.'s AAMRQ +9.52% American Airlines, Air Canada, AC.B.T +0.57% Air France-KLM SA AF.FR +1.41% and Dubai's Emirates Airline are cutting shoulder space by wedging an extra seat into each coach row. That shift is bringing the short-haul standard to long-haul flying.
For almost 20 years, the standard setup in the back of a Boeing BA -0.03% 777 was nine seats per row. But last year, nearly 70% of its biggest version of the plane were delivered with 10-abreast seating, up from just 15% in 2010.
777 Economy 10-abreast seating BOEING
Thanksgiving and Christmas Airfare Turbulence
Of the airlines that have bought Boeing Co.'s new 787 Dreamliner—a model touted as improving passenger comfort—90% have selected nine-abreast seating in coach over roomy eight-abreast. And 10 airlines around the world now fly narrower Airbus A330 jetliners with nine 16.7-inch seats in each row—among the tightest flying—rather than the eight it was designed for, according to the unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. EADSY +1.96%
The new trend in economy seating reverses a half century of seat growth in economy class. Early jet planes like Boeing's 707 had 17-inch seats, a dimension based on the width of a U.S. Air Force pilot's hips, says Airbus marketing chief Chris Emerson.
That standard for long-haul flying increased to 18-inches in the 1970s and 1980s with the 747 jumbo and the first Airbus jets. It widened to 18.5 inches with the Boeing 777 in the 1990s and A380 superjumbo in the 2000s. Now, cost-conscious airlines are moving to lighter 17-inch-wide seats on their Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners and 18-inch seats for A350s.
This doesn't sit well with many travelers, particularly those who are large or overweight. Arm rests and aisles are also getting slimmed to wedge in the extra seat, meaning more elbows get bumped. And while seats are now being designed more ergonomically, with better cushions and head rests, the improvements don't stop people from rubbing shoulders.
"I felt that I was kind of stuck in the seat" of an Emirates 777, said Ben Goodwin, a marketing manager at Birmingham University in England, who recently flew to China through Dubai. On his connecting flight, an Emirates Airbus A380, the seats were one inch wider. "I felt like I'd been upgraded, even though I was still in economy," he said.
The squeeze can help cash-squeezed airlines. Air France recently expanded the premium sections on its 777s while cutting the floor space in economy class. Yet the carrier kept the number of economy seats constant by switching from nine- to 10-abreast in the back, a spokesman said.
"On a 777, ten-abreast is the way to go," said Emirates President Tim Clark. "You'd be nuts to do it any other way."
Pressure in economy cabins also lets airlines upsell coach passengers. Air New Zealand Ltd. flies 10-abreast 777s on which fliers can book three economy seats that convert into a couch by raising the arm and leg rests.
Passengers aren't happy facing decreased shoulder room, more frequent bumps from service carts in narrower aisles and less overall comfort, said Andrew Wong, regional director of travel website TripAdvisor LLC in Singapore. Based on feedback to the company's SeatGuru website, he said, fliers "are becoming aware of increased seating abreast—particularly for the 777."
Plane makers deflect criticism, noting that seat width is up to airlines. Boeing designs its jets for airlines to do "whatever they want to do inside the cabin," said Mike Bair, Boeing senior vice president of marketing. Boeing designers focus on "creature comfort that can't be violated by the airlines," like bigger windows, larger overhead bins and mood lighting on every jet, he said.
Airlines and airplane makers are aware that passenger hips and waist lines aren't shrinking along with the seats dimensions.
"We are mindful that we serve a wide range of customer types and our aircraft need to be configured accordingly," said senior vice president of marketing and loyalty for United-Continental Holdings Inc., Tom O'Toole, who says the airline brings in real people of all shapes and sizes to help test and select its seats.
But United says seat width isn't the sole focus of passenger comfort. The airline's nine-abreast Dreamliner cabin has received higher marks for passenger satisfaction—49% higher than the average rating of its other long-haul jets, owing to the higher overall marks for the 787's new cabin features, he said.
Airbus is publicly siding with coach fliers by running ads touting the width of its traditional economy-class seats. The tagline: "Personal space isn't any less personal on a 12-hour long-haul flight."
But the European plane maker, like Boeing, is also helping airlines cram more seats in the back of its planes.
When Airbus introduced its two-deck A380 superjumbo a decade ago, it boasted that the lower deck was 12 inches wider than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet but would offer the same 10-abreast seating, giving each passenger up to 19 inches of hip space. Now Emirates and some other A380 operators aim to put 11 seats across, at about 17.2 inches each, the same standard used for smaller jets like Boeing's 737.
"We've tried it," said Mr. Clark. "It works."
Airbus officials say they don't promote the configuration for intercontinental flights. "On long haul, we believe it needs to be a minimum of 18 inches," said Airbus's Mr. Emerson. "If it's a regional flight, we can accommodate one more seat abreast."
Mr. Emerson said seats on an Airbus superjumbo at 11 abreast are about the same width as a Boeing 777 at 10 abreast.
But the packed A380 would have an extra drawback because the center bank of seats, between the two aisles, would be five abreast: In every row, both of the window seats and the center seat would be two seats from the aisle, an arrangement known to frequent fliers as the 'double excuse-me.' That means three passengers in each row could face "this horrendous position of having to cross two people to reach the aisle," said Mr. Wong at Trip Advisor.
Airbus, like Boeing, is making high-density seating easier. On the new Airbus A350 model, now in development, the company is proposing either nine-abreast seating or 10-abreast.
Airbus dubbed the model "XWB" for extra-wide body, because the A350 is wider than its A330 and Boeing's Dreamliner. But Boeing officials note that Airbus is proposing to put the same number of passengers in each row of an A350 as Boeing traditionally put in rows of a 747 jumbo jet—inside a cabin roughly 21 inches narrower.
Boeing's future 777 promises some relief. The proposed 777X's cabin will be 4 inches wider than current versions, giving almost half an inch more per seat at 10 across. But that space won't arrive until about 2020.
The solution, said Mr. Clark at Emirates, is to offer distractions like big meals, frequent snacks and lots of electronic entertainment. Mr. Goodwin, the Emirates passenger from Birmingham, said attentive service did distract him from the seating.
"With food and TV," said Mr. Clark at Emirates, "people are mesmerized."
Connect the toilet to the country
Reply #3 on:
November 04, 2013, 09:10:35 AM »
Okay, world travelers, a different sort of test for you. Guess (or know) which country the toilet is
The sardines are getting restless
Reply #4 on:
December 23, 2013, 01:02:21 PM »
Flying coach can be a bruising experience these days.
An Inch Can Make All the Difference
Seats are getting smaller, travelers are getting larger, and tensions are rising.
Rory Rowland said he was rudely rebuffed after he asked the person in front of him not to recline his seat on a red-eye flight. When he later got up to use the bathroom, and the other passenger had fallen asleep, “I hip-checked his seat like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Rowland, a speaker and consultant, said, then feigned innocence when the enraged passenger complained to a flight attendant.
With air travelers increasingly feeling like packed sardines, flying has become a contact sport, nowhere more than over the reclined seat.
Now, it is only getting worse, as airlines re-examine every millimeter of the cabin.
Over the last two decades, the space between seats — hardly roomy before — has fallen about 10 percent, from 34 inches to somewhere between 30 and 32 inches. Today, some airlines are pushing it even further, leaving only a knee-crunching 28 inches.
To gain a little more space, airlines are turning to a new generation of seats that use lighter materials and less padding, moving the magazine pocket above the tray table and even reducing or eliminating the recline in seats. Some are even reducing the number of galleys and bathrooms.
Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, is installing seats with less cushion and thinner materials — a svelte model known in the business as “slim-line.” It also is reducing the maximum recline to two inches from three. These new seats allow Southwest to add another row, or six seats, to every flight — and add $200 million a year in newfound revenue.
“In today’s environment, the goal is to fit as many seats in the cabin as possible,” said Tom Plant, the general manager for seating products at B/E Aerospace, one of the top airplane seat makers. “We would all like more space on an aircraft, but we all like a competitive ticket price.”
Some carriers are taking the smush to new heights.
Spirit Airlines, for instance, uses seats on some flights with the backrest permanently set back three inches. Call it, as Spirit does, “prereclined.”
The low-cost airline started installing the seats in 2010, squeezing passengers into an industry low of 28 inches. While the Airbus A320 typically accommodates 150 passengers in coach, Spirit can pack 178.
And that is a good thing, Spirit says.
“Customers appreciate the fact that there is no longer interference from the seat in front of you moving up and down throughout the flight,” said Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman for Spirit.
Rick Seaney, the chief executive of FareCompare.com, said the airline business had changed in recent years, after airlines parked older planes and started flying with fewer empty seats. In the past five years, he said, carriers had cut capacity — the number of seats they fly — about 12 percent.
“The flip side is they can’t afford not to fill up their seats,” Mr. Seaney said. “This is a massive sea change.”
With so little space to haggle over, passengers have developed their own techniques for handling the crowded conditions.
“They jam their knee into the back of your seat as hard as they can, and they’ll do it repeatedly to see if they can get a reaction,” said Mick Brekke, a businessman who flies for work a few times a month. “That’s happened to me more than once, and that usually settles down after they realize I’m not going to put it back up.”
The passengers Mr. Brekke has encountered are not even the most extreme: Some have taken to using seat-jamming devices, known as knee guards, that prevent a seat in front from reclining. Airlines ban them, but they work, users say.
Smaller seats are not the only reason passengers feel more constricted these days. Travelers are also getting bigger. In the last four decades, the average American gained a little more than 20 pounds and his or her waist expanded about 2.5 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dimensions of airplanes, however, have not changed and neither has the average width of a coach seat, which is 17 to 18 inches.
Page 2 of 2)
As the cabins grow more crowded, airlines say they are thinking only of their customers, trying to keep costs down. Jude Bricker, the senior vice president for planning at Allegiant, said the airline’s nonreclining seats have fewer moving parts and so require less maintenance, which means lower costs. This allows the airline to keep its fares low, he said.
“We are continually reminded from customers and their behavior that what they want most is convenient service with a low fare,” Mr. Bricker said.
Several budget carriers in Europe have also adopted stiff seats, including Ryanair and EasyJet. Air France, for its domestic flights, which never take more than an hour, has installed nonreclining seats where the magazine pocket has been moved above the tray table to provide more space in the critical area around the knees.
For passengers willing to pay more, of course, airlines offer more room. Business class remains an ultracompetitive market with constant innovation and comfortable amenities, like seats that recline fully. Airlines are also increasingly offering several rows of coach seats with more legroom — also at an extra price.
Still, the squeeze is on for most passengers in coach. On a flight from Washington to Frankfurt last year, Odysseas Papadimitriou, the chief executive of WalletHub.com, a personal finance social network, was challenged by a tall passenger seated behind him when he reclined his seat. “He was like, ‘Hey, watch it, buddy. I don’t fit here with you reclining the seat,’ ” he said.
Mr. Papadimitriou called the flight attendant to mediate the dispute and eventually tilted his seat back, but the price he paid to recline was a fitful night’s sleep, as the other passenger grumbled and pushed against the back of his seat for the rest of the flight.
There are ways of resolving conflicts other than bumping into other passengers, as Mr. Rowland, the speaker and consultant, found.
“I lean forward and tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘I’ll buy you a drink if you don’t push your seat back,’ ” Mr. Rowland said. “It’s made flying very pleasant.”
Planes in the air
Reply #5 on:
January 18, 2014, 09:18:54 AM »
purportedly shows all the aircraft in the air right now, this moment. On the map you will see all the planes in the air. When you click on a plane, the information related
to that flight will display in the left navbar:
airline, plane type, air speed, and altitude; all in real time re-calculated every 10 seconds.
In the navbar (left hand column) is a box called "planes." The number in the box is the number of planes airborne.
Drag the map to take you to the area you want to view. To view your region or town, you can zoom in by tapping with your
mouse. Click on "view from the cockpit" to see... well, from the cockpit.
Not quite ready to call this terrorism
Reply #6 on:
March 12, 2014, 11:18:50 AM »
Global Entry-- worth the price?
Reply #7 on:
April 26, 2014, 09:34:06 AM »
Discussion of freedom and related issues:
Last Edit: April 26, 2014, 09:35:43 AM by Crafty_Dog
YAPTA for cheaper air fare
Reply #8 on:
August 28, 2014, 02:00:09 PM »
Yapta Alerts You to a Cheaper Airfare in Time to Rebook Your Flight
Even After Cancellation Fees, Travelers Say They Save by Buying a New Ticket at a Lower Price
By Scott McCartney
Aug. 27, 2014 7:23 p.m. ET
One corporate travel executive saved about $12,000 on a business-class fare to Shanghai, above, from Tampa, Fla., using the Yapta fare-searching tool. Getty Images
Searching for a Labor Day weekend plane ticket home for my daughter, I saw an attractive $432 fare on American Airlines. I sent her the details and she responded within 90 minutes.
It was too late: The price had jumped to $597. But by the end of the day, it was back down to $432.
Airfares yo-yo with more volatility than commodity prices and blood-pressure readings. But you can beat the bounces. It turns out many corporations are doing it daily for their business travelers, and consumers can, too.
Airfares bounce up and down, often frustrating and angering travelers. But can you get a better price after you buy? WSJ's 'Middle Seat' columnist Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero with the answer. Photo: Getty
Yapta, which began tracking airfares in 2007, has turned its fare-searching technology into a corporate tool to hunt for lower fares and hotel room rates after trips are booked. It's available to consumers at yapta.com.
Whenever a price drops in the first 24 hours after purchase, or when it drops more than the cost of the airline's change fee, Yapta sends you an alert and you rebook at the lower price, paying the change fee and pocketing what's left.
Airlines, having created so much volatility in their own pricing, are offering ways to beat the bounces, too. Last week, British Airways IAG.MC -1.01% announced it would offer a 72-hour price hold for a flat fee of $10—useful if you see a good price but aren't ready to commit to a nonrefundable ticket. That's similar to United Airlines's "FareLock," where you pay $5 to $20 and lock in a price for either 72 hours or seven days.
You could combine the two in a strategy to make sure you are getting the best price possible. Put a fare on hold and put Yapta to work. If the price drops during the hold period, you'll get an alert and you can jump on it.
Yapta does what consumers or travel managers could do manually: It periodically rechecks the price of a ticket. Airlines don't embrace the idea, and their pricy penalties for changing nonrefundable tickets limits how often travelers rebook. But neither have airlines put up a fight against Yapta. After all, they are the ones bouncing prices up and down.
When you search for an airline ticket, you usually see one price for a particular trip on specific dates. Airlines, though, actually load as many as two dozen different prices into reservation systems. A number of seats are offered at the lowest price in each class of service, and when those seats sell, reservation computers automatically display the next higher price as the best available.
Several times a day, airline pricing analysts and their computers can change the number of seats available at each price point, and they can change the prices themselves.
Mix in actual purchases and you get a rapidly changing pricing vortex that can anger and frustrate shoppers. One minute you see a good price; the next minute it's a whole lot higher.
"A lot happens between the time you buy and the time you fly,'' says James Filsinger, Yapta's chief executive of the Seattle-based company.
Yapta says its research shows some cities are a lot more volatile for airline prices than others. Tickets leaving from San Francisco were the most volatile of 15 major airports for business travel, Yapta found, and departures from New York's LaGuardia Airport were the least volatile. San Francisco is a hub for both United Airlines and Virgin America, providing lots of pricing competition. La Guardia, with limited takeoff and landing slots, historically has lacked low-fare competition.
Started by a former airline pricing executive, Yapta now is run by Mr. Filsinger, a former executive at the reservation technology firm Sabre Group. Yapta takes fare data published by airlines and periodically tracks the lowest price available for a trip it is monitoring. So far working only on tickets sold in the U.S., Yapta says there are savings opportunities on 11.2% of all itineraries, after airline change fees.
Most of the chances to get money back come within the "void window'' of the first 24 hours after purchase. Corporate travel departments typically get a full business day.
When there were savings to be had, the average in a Yapta study of 150,000 itineraries booked from July through December 2013 was $306 after fees on tickets above $500, and $58 after fees on tickets under $500.
The Transportation Department requires at least a 24-hour cancellation window for tickets sold in the U.S., as long as the reservation is more than seven days before departure.
Most airlines charge the full price up front at the time of booking, but must give a full refund if canceled within 24 hours. (They don't advertise that fact much.) American does offer a 24-hour hold without payment.
With corporate customers, Yapta loads its software into travel department booking systems. It doesn't charge for the service but takes a cut of the savings, usually about 35%, Mr. Filsinger said. With consumers, use of the tracking tool is free. Companies, like consumers, can set a threshold on minimum savings before an alert is sent, to take into account change fees and other expenses. The company recently launched a similar system to check for falling hotel room prices, but so far that's offered only to corporate travel departments and not consumers.
The bigger the fare, the bigger the potential savings, so travel managers say they have seen their most eye-popping results on international business-class tickets.
One Friday, Al Mazzola, director of travel services at Sykes Enterprises Inc., a Florida technology-consulting company, booked a $19,000 business-class ticket from Tampa to Shanghai and back, only to see it fall to $7,000 over the weekend. With the Yapta alert, the company grabbed the new price. "I was stunned. I've never seen savings like that,'' Mr. Mazzola said.
Mr. Mazzola has been using Yapta for more than a year and said he has saved more than $125,000, even after Yapta's percentage and airline change fees. He said probably 90% of the savings comes in the void period, the first full business day after purchase.
Most of the price changes happen in the middle of the night, Mr. Mazzola says, and the new fares are usually still there when he gets to work around 7 a.m. on the East Coast.
Travel agents can rebook via computer when an alert comes in. The traveler keeps the same seat and the same reservation code. Mr. Mazzola sends an email to company travelers saying, "Congratulations, we found a lower fare for you.''
Still, savings are too sporadic to justify booking a high-price ticket in the expectation that it will come down. The company tries always to book the lowest fare, he said.
Similar to United's "FareLock," which Continental Airlines first offered in 2010 shortly before its merger with United, is British Airways's 72-hour hold option. It can help you hang on to a price if it turns out to be the lowest offered. British Airways said it refunds the deposit—$10 for flights from the U.S., €10 from Europe and £10 from the United Kingdom—if the ticket purchase is made. Seats can only be held 21 days or longer before departure.
The hold fee is offered through ba.com and includes code-sharing flights on partner airlines. A few destinations, including some in the Caribbean as well as Buenos Aires, Cairo, Lagos and some cities in India, aren't available because of "complex fluctuating tax calculations," British Airways said.
United said FareLock fees are nonrefundable even if you buy the ticket and can be used only with United and United Express flights, not Star Alliance partners. FareLock can be used to hold frequent-flier award tickets.
Write to Scott McCartney at
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