e-ticket printouts, lowest fares from London


Q:

Steve, I am an 81-year-old, longtime subscriber to ITN, and you and ITN are my last resort for a problem that I have never seen addressed in print.

I made a reservation for my wife on US Airways and was given a confirmation number. I paid by credit card and asked for an e-mail or fax so that my wife could go to the airport with some documentation. After three days and several calls to India and the Philippines, I never received anything.

Is it impossible to find anyone in the United States to confirm my paid reservation? Do you send an elderly lady to the airport without any documents? Does the airline care? — Carl Dachs, Sun City West, AZ

A:

Dear Carl, I’m sure someone there cares, but shame on them for not fulfilling your request. A simple written reassurance of your wife’s trip by e-mail or fax would have done the trick and would have cost them little or nothing.

Nearly all tickets these days are issued electronically rather than in the traditional old paper way. This is not bad, and it means you don’t need to worry about getting, remembering or losing your paper flight coupons. All you need to do is check in for your flight on time and prove who you are. In exchange, you get boarding passes for each plane you’ll be flying on.

By the way, actual paper tickets still are being issued in certain situations: for itineraries where e-tickets are not yet enabled, when there are two or more airlines that don’t have electronic ticketing agreements or if you request paper tickets. But beware, the airlines don’t want to issue paper tickets unless they have to, so if you insist on getting them they will charge you an extra $50 to $100 or more per passenger for this “service.”

In the case of US Air, to get a written confirmation just go to their website, USAir.com, click on “myTrip” and enter your wife’s confirmation number and departure date. Details of her trip will then be displayed ready for printout. Most airlines and travel agencies offer this handy capability.

Regarding wanting to speak to a U.S.-based reservation agent, there are still a few around, but I know of no secret way of avoiding foreign-based agents other than choosing an airline that doesn’t use them exclusively.

Q:

Steve, I was sorry to find your reply to J. Hellman of Los Angeles woefully lacking (Nov. ’06, pg. 90). Stats on London airports were not what s/he needed. Information like the fact that there is regular, efficient, punctual, inexpensive coach service among the airports would have been.

In addition, key to the answer should have been a mention of www. whichbudget.com, which provides a systematic, comprehensive list of airlines flying between any two points worldwide. I just used it to find three that fly between London and Copenhagen, for example. — Sue Anne Toms, Thibodaux, LA

A:

Dear Sue Anne, gee, I thought my answer was pretty good. But you’re right. Perhaps I should have just told her/him how to find the cheapest fare from one point to another. And your suggestion about using Whichbudget.com is a good one.

Once upon a time, fares on a specific airline on a specific route were virtually the same regardless of where they were obtained, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that that’s no longer true. Airline tickets are now distributed in a variety of ways. The most common is through any of the four major Global Distribution Systems (GDS): Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus. Almost all travel agents use one of these, and so do most airlines.

You can buy tickets directly from an airline — by phone, for example, or over the Internet. Fares offered on the Internet often are cheaper, while you may even be charged a premium and a fee if you book by phone. Or you can buy through a third party, such as a brick-and-mortar travel agency or an online agency such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia or lesser-advertised sites such as Cheaptickets or 1800cheapseats. Which is best of all of the above depends upon the type of itinerary, special discount agreements with specific airlines and, sometimes, luck.

Other methods of distribution include consolidators (in my mind, kind of like a clearing house for unsold merchandise), accessible through travel agents, and bulk or contract fares, which are offered only when included as part of a package incorporating hotels, ground transportation and/or tours so that there is not a direct competition with the airline’s product.

Besides these, there are Internet search engines, sometimes called skimmers or scanners, that do a terrific job of simultaneously looking at several online agencies and airline websites, seeking the lowest fares. I’ve used www.sidestep.com for years and occasionally refer to www.farechase.yahoo.com or www. kayak.com. The one you recommend (www.whichbudget.com) is a “skimmer,” and on the first page of the website it says, “121 airlines - 115 countries - 776 airports - 19761 routes.”

As you suggested, I would not hesitate to use it or similar sites to find the lowest fare, but keep in mind that the “lowest fares” do not always equal the “best service.” There are, in fact, over 500 airlines worldwide, and “Whichbudget” inspects only about 25% of them. Thus, when it comes to the lowest fare or best service, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to overlook any good bets by always relying upon just this one method of search.

ITN reader Lorenz Rychner of Boulder, Colorado, also wrote regarding this article and recommended both www.whichbudget.com and www.skyscanner.net.

Steve Venables has 40 years’ experience in the travel industry, 36 as a travel agent.