Sunday Reader Email Question: How Do I Find Cheap Airfares?

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TPG reader David writes:

“The end of the year is fastly approaching and I am striving for Premier Executive status with United. I know this means I am going to have to do some mileage runs to make up about 10k EQM’s. What is the best way to search for low fares out of my home airport (SJC) without just searching for random cities on UA.com until a good price comes up?”

First off, I’m not an expert with constructing mileage runs and with cheap fares, so I’m hoping this post draws in some of the vast expertise of TPG readers. Also, I usually wait until October/November to really start thinking about runs since so many things can change day-t0-day. However, I do have some starter tools that can help you find the lowest fares without having to use a clunky site like united.com. Check out the following resources:

1) Farecompare FlyerTalk Tool. This tool allows you to filter flight searches by city, price, alliance and cost per mile. Most mileage runners want 3 cents per elite mile, but that’s been pretty hard to get these days. Every person has a different calculator for elite status and the value of having status to a frequent flyer largely depends on how often the benefits are used. Unfortunately, many people will do anything to attain status, but barely get any use out of it.

Farecompare interface

2) Travelocity Flexible Date Search. This allows you to search for the absolute lowest fares at any given time, so it often pays out.

Travelocity.com flex search - buggy at times, but good deals can be had

3) Some airline website have decent flexible date searches which can help you sniff out the low fares. Not that it’ll help for United, but for example, Delta.com -> Planning tools -> Book a flight. They allow searching by flexible airports and flexible dates (including a nifty flexible weekend calendar search).

4) Flyertalk Mileage Run forum can help you identify many mistake fares and overall good economy and business/first fares as well. I usually get in on amazing mistake fares a couple times a year (like my 3 consecutive trips to Stockholm and Copenhagen in April). You need to act very quickly when you see these fares, especially since most airlines allow risk free 24 hour cancellations.

5) Check out Airfarewatchdog.com and follow them on Twitter for breaking deals. They routinely post very good fares, so it’s a good idea to follow them.

6) Hipmunk is a new way to search a lot of different fares.

7) Kayak.com/buzz

What other tools are out there?

Overall, if you want to go through a first-hand workshop on constructing mileage runs, I recommend coming to the Chicago Seminars in October. I’ll be there speaking about American Express points but other bloggers will be covering other topics, including Ben on constructing mileage runs.

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