Preparing For the Friendly Skies
October 14, 2004 8:23 PM
With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season fast approaching, SF State students have leisurely begun to compare prices of airline tickets for the best possible deal.
Many technically savvy students skip the travel agent route and spend hours navigating such sites as Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz because of the all-in-one convenience these online companies provide, such as searching all major airlines for availability, affordable prices, hotel and car rental.
“The challenge you have (with purchasing tickets online) is that you have to go where they want you to go,” said Dr. David Jones, SF State Travel and Leisure professor. “If you want to add or delay connections to fit your schedule, those Web sites are not convenient.”
Jones went on to say that as a result of lost revenue since the inception of these online discount travel sites, airlines have started offering, “guaranteed lowest price” fares. Jones made the argument that travelers also get a better deal when purchasing tickets directly from an airline’s Web site because if changes do become necessary, travelers can deal directly with that airline.
“Once you purchase a ticket online, that’s it,” said Jones. “The ticket is non-refundable, non-changeable.”
“The increase in fuel doesn’t add much to a ticket,” said Troy Mayes, a AAA travel specialist. “On average, only $2.50 per ticket. But because more people are flying this year than the past 3-to-4 years, travelers need to consider availability.”
According to Mayes, 2004 Thanksgiving travelers thus far have booked flights for November 23 and 27, and that the longer one waits, the fewer the options they will have to choose from.
“I don’t want students to panic,” said Mayes, “but if they plan to fly this holiday season, now is the time to book.”
Currently, a San Francisco-to-Denver ticket costs $289. That price could as much as double in two weeks, according to an American Airlines reservation specialist.
“I don’t do anything last minute,” said Rachel Barton, an international relations senior. “I plan my trips as far ahead as 7 months”
Barton said that she looks through the travel section of the Sunday edition of the SF Chronicle for interesting places to visit and then makes her travel arrangements with STA, the world's largest budget travel agency for students under 26. Between the money she saves booking through STA, and staying in hostels, she is able to frequently backpack through Europe.
Many students praised the independent airline, JetBlue, who recently added flights out of San Jose, Boston, Denver, San Diego, Sacramento, Las Vegas and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.
“The best last minute airline is JetBlue,” said George Pahulu, an electrical engineering senior. “I usually pay between $87 and $110 for a roundtrip ticket from Oakland to Long Beach.”
Pahulu, who flies from San Francisco to Long Beach at least once a month, said that included in the price of a JetBlue ticket, passengers can expect a non-stop flight, access to DirecTV and a brown bag snack. He went on to say that the price is usually the same whether you book four weeks in advance or the same day. But as the word gets out on JetBlue's bargains, seats will quickly fill up.
“JetBlue’s customer service is the best I have ever experienced,” said Shortcake Seuga, a 4th year liberal arts student. “The flight attendants and pilots constantly crack jokes with the passengers on every flight. It makes the flight go by faster and is more personable. I’d describe them as informally professional.”
Since 9/11, Seuga said that she feels most comfortable flying from smaller airports on smaller planes. Therefore, flying on JetBlue from Oakland and Long Beach 8-to-10 times per school year takes most of the pressure and fear out of flying for her.
"JetBlue's Web site is really easy to search," said Mayes. "And their on-time arrival is better than United and American. They can charge less for tickets because they don't offer hot meal service, and they only operate one type of aircraft so they've become experts at flying it. Another reason for the low fares they offer is that their hangers are tucked away from the general runways, which is good because the commercial air traffic can be backed up from 15 minutes to 2 hours."
If a seat is not available on a particular JetBlue flight, both Seuga and Pahula said that they use the travel Web site studentuniverse.com. Only students and faculty are eligible to purchase tickets from this Web site, therefore the company requires its members to fill out an application that asks for enrollment status, name, address and telephone number of the school, which StudentUniverse then verifies before allowing students and faculty members to purchase airline tickets.
“I love this site,” said Seugua. “You can upgrade to first class and get great last minute prices. They have links to hostels, railways, travel guides, health and safety alerts, hotels and car rentals. Everything sites like Expedia and Priceline have, but StudentUniverse has better deals.”
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