Getting in on the ground price

Marketplace Staff May 25, 2007
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Getting in on the ground price

Marketplace Staff May 25, 2007
HTML EMBED:
COPY

TESS VIGELAND: One of the most aggravating things about traveling by plane?
Aside from long security lines and seats that force you into the fetal position?
Buying your ticket, then two weeks later, finding the same ticket for 50 bucks less.
Well several new websites have cropped up recently to help you figure out the best time to buy.
And one in particular is putting its money where its mouth is.
Marketplace’s Amy Scott looked into it.

AMY SCOTT: Let’s do a search for flights to Vegas from New York.

[SOUND: Typing]

Farecast.com not only lists the lowest fare out there – $379 for my dates – it also predicts whether that fare will go up or down. It’s telling me to wait. Oh, prices could drop by 39 bucks in the next week.

But what happens if prices go up instead of down? For 9.95, Farecast will guarantee my $379 fare, with a kind of insurance policy called fare guard. If I end up paying more for my ticket, Farecast will pay me the difference.

Hugh Crean is the company’s CEO.

HUGH CREAN: Certainly we are not clairvoyant. So yeah, there are certain situations where we are wrong, and we stand behind the prediction and we write that check. But what we find is, as the stats prove out, we are very good at predicting airfare.

Those stats show Farecast is right almost 75 percent of the time, according to the company. But traveler beware – Farecast only predicts changes in the lowest available airfare, not the specific flight or time you want.

Terry Trippler runs a subscription travel site, myvacationpassport.com. He says Farecast is useful if you’re looking for the lowest fare, but it’s probably low for a reason.

TERRY TRIPPLER: I try to convince our subscribers and I tell them over and over the lowest fare is not always the best value. Sometimes the lowest fare can be the lowest fare by $50 or $100, but it’s a 14-hour trip instead of a four-hour trip.

If Farecast has its limitations, Henry Harteveldt says it does help lift the veil on a supremely mysterious business. Harteveldt is a former airline executive. He now follows the travel industry for Forrester Research.

HENRY HARTEVELDT: I remember TWA was the first airline I worked at and I talked to somebody and asked what our lowest price was and he said, “Only God knows the answer to that, and he ain’t talking.” What Farecast does is it shines some light down this very, very complex windy tunnel known as buying airline tickets.

But there is such a thing as too much information. Dozens of websites offer similar nuggets of travel wisdom. One company, Fare Compare, provides a history of airfare changes so you see how your fare stacks up. Kayak.com is more near-term. It shows you the best fares other users have found recently for the same route.

Airfare expert Terry Trippler says you could drive yourself crazy hunting for the absolute, rock bottom, lowest price. He suggests settling for a price you can live with.

TRIPPLER: When you feel that you have found a fair price, I recommend you take it, relax, and enjoy life.

But for those of us still intent on getting the lowest price, Farecast’s insurance isn’t the only option. A few days ago a new website launched that alerts you when prices drop. It’s called Yapta.com, and it blows the lid off one of the best-kept secrets in travel. If a fare drops after you’ve bought your ticket, many airlines will send you a voucher to make up the difference.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace Money.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.