If you're still looking for that Spring Break trip, it's time to book. Fares are higher this year than they have been in past years, primarily because a record number of Americans will be flying in March and April. The 9/11 backlash is over... and most of us are ready to travel longer distances when we get away.
There are a number of websites I use when I'm booking my trips. It takes a little extra work to do your booking the way I do mine, but it could very easily save you some money.
The first thing I always do is get a feel for what airfares are running by checking Expedia.com. Expedia is one of the best sites, I find, when comparing fares by airline, and by the number of en-route stops. But (the folks at Expedia don't want to hear this) I never book my ticket there.
Once I find a good deal at Expedia, I go directly to the airline's website. Almost always, I'll find the fare $5 cheaper per person on the airline's website... because that's what Expedia charges in fees. So if I find a ticket on Expedia, flying on United, for example, for $200, I'll go to the United website and book the ticket for $195. If you don't know the airline's web address, I've posted a full list for all the airlines that fly out of PDX at the end of this blog.
If you aren't finding any good deals that way, go to Hotwire. It's a website that offers discounted airfares. The airlines "dump" extra capacity on Hotwire, at 20 to 50% off the regular fare. Hotwire won't always have a good deal... but if you catch it at the right time, you can get a huge discount.
Sometimes vacations are a lot less stressful if you book them as a package, with airfare, hotel and car included. But it's often hard to tell if you're getting a good deal when you're looking at one huge bill for everything. You have to trust a website, if you're going to book a package on-line. That's why, if I'm booking a complicated package, with multiple destinations, multiple hotels, or international travel, I use a travel agent. Their $20 booking fee is well worth it for a complicated itinerary.
If you're looking to book a simple package, I like Orbitz. It's run by the airlines, and they put package deals right on the front page. You'll save between $50 and $300 by booking your travel as a package here.
If you're trying to find a good place to go, or you want to know more about the city you've selected, I recommend Fodor's. Their website has great information about things to do, restaurants, and hotels. They also have a list of good deals on the left side of their homepage.
After you find that good deal, but before you book, I recommend you get the most out of your travel by checking Flightstats. It's run by a Portland company. It compiles all the on-time information for every flight in the US. You can type in the flight number of the one you're thinking about booking, and it will tell you what your chances are of being on-time. It also tells you things like average delay, and number of cancellations.
Meanwhile, Seatmap.com has a comprehensive listing of all airline fleets in the US, and many from around the world. The site walks you through the seatmap of the plane that will be used on your flight. It tells you which seats are good, and which to avoid. I always use it before I book.
One more thing to remember: Southwest Airlines doesn't list its fares in any of the on-line booking engines. To get fares for Southwest, you must go to its website. Southwest also offers travel deals... but again... only on its website.
If you know of any good deals for Spring Break, I'd love to hear about them! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appendix: Airlines and Non-Stop Destinations at PDX
Air Canada: Vancouver, BC.
Alaska Airlines: Anchorage, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange County, Palm Springs, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
America West Airlines/US Airways: Las Vegas and Phoenix.
American Airlines: Chicago O'Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Big Sky Airlines: Moses Lake.
Continental Airlines: Houston Bush Intercontinental and New York/Newark.
Delta Air Lines: Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City.
Frontier Airlines: Denver.
Hawaiian Airlines: Honolulu and Kahului/Maui.
Horizon Air: Billings, Boise, Burbank, Denver, Eugene, Fresno, Klamath Falls, Medford, Moses Lake, North Bend/Coos Bay, Oakland, Ontario, Pasco, Pendleton, Redding, Redmond/Bend, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Spokane, and Vancouver, BC.
jetBlue Airways: New York Kennedy.
Lufthansa German Airlines: Frankfurt.
Northwest Airlines: Detroit, Honolulu, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Tokyo/Narita.
Southwest Airlines: Albuquerque, Boise, Chicago Midway, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, and Spokane.
United Airlines: Chicago O'Hare, Denver, Eugene, Los Angeles, Medford, Redmond/Bend, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles.