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Travel planning: Target of opportunity airfares

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

If you have a bit of an adventurous spirit and a bit of schedule flexibility, consider a “target of opportunity” trip this year. That’s when you see a great airfare to someplace you’ve always had a yen to visit. Over the last year, I’ve taken two such trips and had wonderful times.

“Opportunity” airfares are easy to spot. Airlines frequently conduct “flash” sales, with substantial discounts available to buy for only a few days, but covering travel for several months. Often, the best deals require a connection somewhere, but many apply to nonstop flights as well. Less often, airlines post “mistake” fares entered into the system in error: Some lines honor mistake fares, some don’t, but buying a mistake fare is risk-free. At best, you get a really good deal; at worst, you get your money back without losing anything.

A handful of online outfits, including AirfareWatchdog.com, send regular notifications of good airfare deals from your home city to anyone who registers. Most individual airlines have similar programs, where you sign up for notifications of special deals. Some online travel agencies offer to notify you when the fare drops to any route you request.

Alternatively, you can sign up for more general email notifications not keyed to an individual home airport. Some outfits send out daily bulletins. As I write this, for example, AirfareSpot.com is showing Portland to New York round-trip at $266 for travel through March on JetBlue and $98 from Miami to Washington, or vice versa, for midweek flights on American. DealBase.com features a bunch of discounted fares on Frontier, including Las Vegas to Austin for $29 one way.

But the best deals tend to be for international flights, both regional and long-haul. Current examples from AirfareSpot and SecretFlying.com include $499 New York to Bali round-trip for travel in November and December of 2017; $312 round-trip Boston to Brussels for travel through May; $448 Los Angeles to Zurich for travel this August; $390 to $407 round-trip San Francisco to Paris, Rome or Milan for travel in April and May and $492 to $501 round-trip Chicago to Beijing for travel through April.

Most of the deal fares are on major airlines; sometimes just one line, sometimes several. Most deal fares are subject to seat limitations and blackout dates. Many are for off-season travel, but some apply to summer peaks.

The most common deals are in economy, but often the most spectacular deal fares are in business class and premium economy. Last year, for example, I found a business-class round-trip from San Francisco to Vienna for less than $2,000, and later a round-trip from Seattle to Shenzhen, China, for $1,600. Currently, Singapore is posting flights under $1,000 round-trip from the U.S. to Asia or Europe in premium economy. Although the websites I mentioned sometimes post business-class fares along with their economy postings, the gold standard in premium-class deals is Matthew Bennett’s site First Class Flyer. Unfortunately, the annual fee of $97 to $297, depending on the level of service, puts this resource outside the reach of most vacation travelers, but the free sites do a reasonably good job.

A disproportionate number of these postings are for trips that originate in New York. In some cases, the sale also applies either to direct or connecting flights from many different U.S. cities, at various add-on fares. When the sale applies to New York only, it may not be a very good deal if you have to buy a separate ticket to New York.

Opportunity travel isn’t confined to airfares. Hotelwatchdog.com, AirfareWatchdog‘s stablemate, offers a similar service highlighting hotel deals. Several other outfits also cover hotel and package tour flash sales, along with Groupon and LivingSocial. And most big cruise agencies do the same for cruises.

No matter what your interest, the secret to finding the best deals is almost always to cast a wide net. And these days, that net can come up with some terrific deals with enough diversity that you can almost count on finding something you’d like.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at http://www.rail-guru.com/.)

(c) 2017 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC. — Tribune Content Agency — January 31, 2017

Ed Perkins is a nationally syndicated travel columnist, with weekly columns appearing in three dozen U.S. newspapers. He was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter and has written for Business Traveller (London), Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, The New Yorker, and National Geographic Traveler.

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