Not all travel agents are created equal. However their differences can help you choose one that will plan a kick ass trip for your budget. It's important to lay down some groundwork on tips that will start your trip off with a cost cutting bang, and not a wheezing cough.
First off, let's get one thing straight. We all love cheap fares. There are probably some airlines that ask you to bring your own parachute for a discount, but that's about the limit for me, unless it's just a short flight. . . But to get incredibly cheap seats, don't just hop over to Expedia for their "weekend specials" and definitely don't call your mom and dad's travel agent. Dig in, look under every travel-stone out there. If you find a roundtrip for $229, search for $228.
Yes, finding the truly best deal takes a lot of time. But you know what? How nice does it feel to sit on the next red eye to London after searching around for a killer fare? It feels pretty good, trust me.
So where do you find these ultra-cheap fares? Think about companies that fit your travel style: budget, flexible, adventurous and connected. Student travel agencies, air couriers, and air consolidators are all found on the web, and some are even next to your campus. Even though behemoth Council Travel went under last year, other student travel agencies are popping up faster than you can say "book it." Why? Well, the student market seems to always be on the move: visiting mom and dad, raging in Cabo, or splitting overseas. There are some great agencies near your campus or a click away. Student travel agencies offer lots of benefits specifically for students, obviously, whereas slightly better deals may be found with consolidators or on air couriers. Just find the ticket that matches your travel dreams, at your dream price.
Student Universe, once a brick and mortar store, now books tickets along with partners Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com. According to spokesperson Alyssa Meritt, Student Universe brings over ten years of experience working with the student market. They focus on the student traveler and every aspect of the travel experience, and are an excellent starting point for searching the web for low, student rates. In addition, one does not need the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) typically required by agencies such as STA Travel to buy a ticket. That saves you $22 right there.
Flight Centre recently sailed onto USA soil and planted over ten offices in the L.A. area. That's a good thing since the Australian-based agency guarantees the lowest international fare. Spokesperson Kate Shilling backs that up, suggesting that "We will never be beaten on any fare to any international destination at any time. If a person finds a cheaper fare on an identical flight anywhere else, it will be matched by Flight Centre and we'll take another $15 off." Because Flight Centre is essentially an air consolidator, which means they buy bulk tickets in advance at major discounts, they can back up that claim.
Let the Canadian invasion begin, eh. Travel Cuts is the largest student travel agency in Canada and plans to open over ten offices near college campuses by this upcoming February, according to spokesperson Chris Arrott. Travel Cuts says they work closely with tourist boards, airlines and land product companies to ensure they are up-to-date and knowledgeable about the travel choices available. In addition, Travel Cuts employees are experienced travelers, and give equally sound advice on destinations and cheap fares. And they promise not to tag your bag with the USA flag, in contrast with some Americans who stealthily use the Maple leaf.
STA Travel is now the largest student travel agency after purchasing Council Travel last year. They now have over 110 offices nationwide and many more worldwide. STA's hip image and low prices have pulled students into their offices for years. Now combined with Council Travel, it is even more convenient to find a location and a surefire way to grab a great fare.
Need a really cheap ticket? Can you pack your month trip in one carry on? Then air couriers might be your answer to travel freedom on a shoestring budget. Because international customs can take one to two weeks to get a package through its doors, especially in these days of tight security, companies shipping materials use air couriers. A courier will take an airline seat at a huge discount, thus giving up their luggage space to fit on courier packages. Upon arrival, the courier checks the package through with a customer service rep, and is on his or her way. Services like www.aircourier.org and www.courier.org sell year-long memberships to access courier flight information available worldwide. In addition, one can search for last minute deals, where you can get a ticket for $400, $200 or even less anywhere in the world.
Another online option is Hotwire.com, though their biggest deals are often on domestic flights and they don't have the student focus many of the above companies do. If you want to go old-school style, remember to check out the travel classifieds of the major newspapers for big savings with small ticket consolidator companies. Finally, if possible, hunt down travel agencies in ethnic neighborhoods that specialize in travel to your destination: Chinatown agencies for flights to Beijing, Little Italy for Roman excursions, Little Havana for most Caribbean and South American flights. Somehow, they seem to have the inside track on cheap tickets.
Photo by Jeff Booth