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tripadvisor flightsWhat’s most important to you when booking a flight — price? Schedule? Number of connections? Legroom? The in-flight experience? For many travelers, the answer is “all of those things.” And airfare booking sites are responding.

Today TripAdvisor introduced a new version of its flight search engine that includes information such as legroom ratings (tight, average or spacious), whether seats with extra space are available for purchase, the cost of a first checked bag, and whether your seat has a personal TV screen and/or power outlet.

The default search results are sorted by lowest price, but you can also choose to show only nonstop options, to “avoid early flights” (before 8 a.m.) or to see the flights offering the “best value.” It’s not immediately clear what qualifies a flight for “best value” status. In one search, the site gave me a happy medium between an expensive nonstop flight and a cheaper but less convenient option with two layovers. In another, it suggested a nonstop flight that cost about $300 more than the cheapest, multi-leg flight (about a 25 percent increase in price).

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These offerings are similar to those on other sites like Routehappy.com — which assigns flights a Happiness Score based on entertainment options, seat configuration, trip length and other factors — and Hipmunk.com, whose Agony Index sorts flights by a combination of price, length and number of layovers.

What’s cool about TripAdvisor’s flight search is that it has user photos so you can catch a glimpse of what your plane will look like. The site also pulls in seating charts and ratings from sister site SeatGuru.

For most of us, flying will never really be fun — but now at least we’ve got one more option to help us save money and make that in-flight experience just a little bit brighter.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns SeatGuru.com.

airplane sky writing loveThe Deal: JetBlue has announced a bargain that both couples and singles can enjoy this Valentine’s Day: a one-day Love-A-Fare sale with flights starting at just $39 each way, including taxes and fees. (Note that the advertised fare on the JetBlue site is $49, but if you check out the list of city pairings, you’ll see $39 and $40 fares in the mix too.)

Flights are available from gateways around the U.S. (like New York, Orlando and Boston), plus a few in the Caribbean (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix). Travel is good between February 21 and April 3.

The Catch: For most destinations, travel is only valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (but check the fine print on the JetBlue site for a few exceptions).

The Competition: Southwest is running a U.S. domestic fare sale with flights priced from $65 each way, including taxes and fees. Like the JetBlue deal, this one is also good for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But you have a few extra days to think about these fares — the deal doesn’t expire until February 16.

Find more bargains like these in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

piggy bank airline ticketsI’ve just booked the kind of deal that makes me feel like I’m a great explorer.

I’m Marco Polo stumbling onto an overland trade route to China or Magellan finding his way around Cape Horn. In my mind, I have discovered something truly sensational — dare I say something that could even change the way that people look at the world … of great deals on airfare.

I’ve booked a deal for a roundtrip transatlantic flight for more than $1,400 less than the normal ticket price by adding on a rental car.

Normally, if you’re booking a trip for a week or so, you only get a cheap fare if you stay over at least one Saturday. Book a Monday – Friday flight, as many business travelers do, and the airlines gouge you. However, if you fly British Airways and book a package deal through its Web site (flight + rental car, hotel, etc.), you are granted access to the super-secret cheapo rates.

Evidence my booking. I was looking for a flight from London to either Philadelphia or New York, and after a few hours of searching, the lowest fare I found was £1,497 (a little over $2,300) on the British Airways Web site. But when I clicked on the “flight + car” package option, the total price dropped to £555 (about $880).

Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Unable to believe my eyes, I called one of BA’s agents, who confirmed that, indeed, you can get this kind of deal routinely by booking a package. “When we’re selling holidays, we’re a tour operator and we have preferential rates, which we’re able to pass … on to the consumer,” said Tracy Long of British Airways Holidays. “If you’re booking anything more than just a flight, you’re able to take advantage of deeper discounts.”

In my case, booking a package may also have dropped me into the leisure travel category, which usually offers cheaper rates than those for business travelers.

So enjoy your discounted flight and rental car or hotel stay courtesy of IndependentTraveler.com, and when you brag about the deal to your friends, be sure to claim the discovery for yourself.

See Our Latest Airfare Deals

– written by Jamey Bergman

Ballybunion Castle RuinsEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: In just a few weeks, airlines will have to include government taxes and fees when advertising ticket prices, in accordance with new U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that kick in on January 24. Some carriers, like Lufthansa and Air France, have already begun posting full-fare ticket prices online.

Aer Lingus is the latest airline to start displaying fares in a more truthful manner. The Irish carrier just announced that it will publish prices inclusive of all taxes and fees from this point forward. It’s quite refreshing to click around on a booking rate calendar and see numbers that are actually reflective of final ticket prices — especially when combing through already-low sale fares.

Rolling out all-inclusive rates along with this competitive sale, which offers across-the-pond flights for less than $500 roundtrip, was a smart move, Aer Lingus. The sale features discounted fares to Dublin from more than 30 U.S. cities, with roundtrip tickets starting at $447.91 (which would be a pretty good price even if it didn’t include the extra fees).

The Catch: These fares are valid for travel in January, February and March, which is Ireland’s low season for tourism. In some destinations on the isle, attractions, restaurants and hotels may be closed for winter; but this doesn’t mean you can’t plan a worthy Ireland getaway. Stick to big cities like Dublin, Belfast or Galway — which will offer a wider selection of year-round attractions than small towns — and contact local tourist information offices ahead of time to make sure that the places you want to see will be open.

The Competition: Lufthansa is also running a Europe winter fare sale; this one offers some nicely priced routes, as well as a wide selection of departure and destination gateways. Fares start at $507 roundtrip (that price is for a flight from New York to Dublin), including all taxes and fees.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

Paris snow winterEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: There are lots of super holiday gifts one can bestow on globetrotters, from travel gift cards to pet suitcases. Still, we wish we could whip out our credit cards and reserve a flight to an exciting destination for a special person or two on our lists — but we can’t. Or, at least, we can’t without stealing our loved one’s passport and requesting vacation days from his or her boss. All in all, it’s a bit rash to buy a flight for someone without any word of warning.

That’s not the case any longer. Aer Lingus has waived the name and itinerary change fees for flights booked by tomorrow, December 14. Purchase a flight from Boston, Chicago or New York to select European destinations, and you’ll have the option to make one change to the name on the ticket as well one change to the ticketed travel dates through the end of January. Tickets are valid for travel from January 1 through March 31, 2012.

It’s a fabulous gift idea: Present Mom with a flight to Paris, and let her pick her own travel dates! This deal is perfect for the holidays, but it’s also an excellent option for travelers who want to plan a European winter getaway but aren’t ready to commit to a set itinerary just yet.

The Catch: As we said, you may only make one change to the ticketholder’s name and one change to the travel dates for the flight. Further changes will incur a $210 fee each way. Additionally, if you change your dates and end up with a more expensive ticket than the one you originally purchased, you’ll have to pay the difference in fares.

The Competition: We haven’t seen another deal quite like this. But the next best thing is a travel gift card. Don’t miss this roundup of our favorite travel gift card deals.

Find more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

CancunEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: If the thought of a roundtrip flight for less than $80 makes you drool, grab some napkins. JetBlue just rolled out a pretty impressive one-day sale featuring fares to destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean starting at $29 each way before taxes and fees. With taxes, the cheapest possible flight you can get is $79.40 for a roundtrip fare from Long Beach to Las Vegas. Plane tickets don’t get much cheaper than that.

This deal offers a wide range of travel dates, too. Depart on any day of the week except Friday or Sunday from December 6 through February 15. If you have a ski trip, Florida beach getaway or Caribbean cruise penciled onto your calendar this winter, don’t overlook this deal. (There are plenty of cheap fares from select U.S. cities to Fort Lauderdale, a major cruise port.)

The Catch: Sorry, Santa. Holiday travel dates are excluded. You can’t take advantage of this offer if you plan to fly between December 16 and January 3.

The Competition: Southwest, Alaska and AirTran are also running fare sales to select destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean right now. What’s the best deal? Ultimately, it all depends on your route. We recommend checking prices for your particular itinerary on all four airline Web sites.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

Airfare SaleThe airlines are clearly hitching a ride on the Cyber Monday bandwagon. Today, several major carriers rolled out masses of discounted tickets in honor of this well-marketed pseudo-holiday. Some of today’s fare offers end at midnight tonight, in true Cyber Monday flash sale fashion. Others will last through the beginning of December, giving travelers some time to take a few breaths and consider their options before punching in their credit card information. Here’s a selection of the best fare sales we’ve spotted so far today.

American Airlines Fares from $54 OW
Out of all the fare sales we’ve seen this morning, this American Airlines offer wins the prize for breadth of destinations. You can find discounted tickets to a great selection of gateways across the globe, from Shanghai to Mazatlan. Fares start at $54 each way plus taxes and fees for travel in January and the beginning of February. This deal expires tonight at 11:59 p.m. Central Time.

Save 10% on Frontier Airlines Fares
This Cyber Monday airfare offer is refreshingly simple. Enter promo code CYBER10 and receive 10 percent off any published fare (departing through March 7) booked on the Frontier Airlines Web site. The catch? You must purchase your tickets by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time tonight in order to snag this deal.

Southwest Airlines Fares from $59 OW
Here’s a fairly typical Southwest Airlines systemwide sale, which the airline normally rolls out on Tuesdays. Fares to U.S. gateways start at $59 each way plus taxes and fees, for travel from December through mid-February. There’s more good news: No need to start desperately crafting an itinerary today. This sale’s on through December 1.

AirTran Airways Fares from $59 OW
This AirTran offer mimics the Southwest sale in so many ways: same travel dates, same blackout dates, same expiration dates. (It figures. Southwest acquired AirTran in spring 2011, and the two carriers will soon merge into a single operator.) But there’s one big difference between the two sales. Unlike Southwest, AirTran is offering discounted tickets to international destinations as well as domestic locales, including gateways in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Alaska Airlines Fares from $40 OW
Alaska Airlines advises its customers, “Hurry, sale ends December 5, 2011″ — but really, you don’t need to rush. In comparison to many of the Cyber Monday travel deals floating around on the Internet today, this offer features a pretty reasonable expiration date a week from today. Book by that December 5 deadline and you can snap up fares to destinations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada for as little as $40 each way plus taxes and fees. Travel is valid from December through March.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

Prague Christmas MarketEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: ‘Tis the season to book an incredibly low-priced flight to Europe. Right now, Lufthansa is selling tickets across the pond for as little as $470 roundtrip; that’s including all taxes and fees, mind you. So the price that’s going to show up on your credit card statement is $470, end of story. A roundtrip flight to Europe for less than $500 is a rare thing indeed.

It’s currently the off-season for travel to Europe, which is why we’re seeing prices this low. But don’t let cold weather stop you. Christmas markets, winter festivals, the northern lights and Alpine skiing are just a few reasons to keep Europe in mind as a winter travel destination.

The Catch: As is usually the case with winter fare sales, there are some blackout dates around the holidays. That $470 ticket we spotted was for a flight from New York to Dublin departing on December 4 and returning on December 12. The same route can cost as much as $1,066 if you travel during the blackout period, which is from December 15 through January 8.

The Competition: Aer Lingus is running a winter Europe fare sale that features flights starting at $249 each way; however, taxes and fees aren’t included in this price. With roughly $200 in taxes added to the cost of your ticket, you can expect to pay more than $700 for your fare.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

winter new hampshireEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Southwest Airlines just kicked off a 72-hour sale featuring fall and winter flights for as little as $35 each way. Travel dates range from November 30 through December 14 and from January 4 through February 15. You can fly on any day of the week except Sunday. (We’re thrilled to see a sale that doesn’t tether travelers exclusively to midweek departures.) Fares are tallied based on length of flight as follows:

-Flights up to 450 miles cost $35 each way
-Flights from 451 – 1,000 miles cost $65 each way
-Flights from 1,001 – 1,500 miles cost $95 each way
-Flights more than 1,501 miles cost $125 each way

The Catch: While travel dates extend from November through February, flights around the holidays are excluded. Also, there’s that 72-hour problem. This sale doesn’t leave much wiggle room for anyone still sketching out a winter travel itinerary.

The Competition: AirTran Airways is running a fall and winter fare sale that’s virtually identical to this Southwest offer. But let’s be honest. AirTran isn’t exactly Southwest’s competition, per se. Southwest acquired AirTran in May 2011, and the two carriers will eventually merge into a single operator.

So how do the sales compare? Fares are similar and travel dates are the same. You’ll want to check prices for your particular itinerary with both airlines to see which one offers the best bargain for you. But keep a wary eye on those extra fees.

Southwest defeated AirTran in our deal of the week dust-up for one big reason: surcharges. First off, Southwest’s baggage policy beats AirTran’s by a mile. Southwest allows each passenger to check up to two bags for free, whereas AirTran charges $20 for your first checked bag and $25 for your second. AirTran collects an extra $15 for reservations made over the phone; Southwest doesn’t. And Southwest allows passengers to change their plans and use what they’ve already paid for future travel with the airline. AirTran, on the other hand, pockets a $75 change fee for any itinerary alterations.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

freeport bahamasEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Vision Airlines is currently offering base fares to the Bahamas for the price of a song on iTunes. Flights from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Bahama Island are on sale for just $1 each way before taxes. Additionally, fares from other U.S. cities to the tropical destination are selling for as little as $29 each way before taxes. Travel is valid between November 3 and December 19.

Vision is a new airline that just started offering commercial flights to select U.S. cities and to the Bahamas this year. The carrier begins nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Richmond, Raleigh and Baltimore to Grand Bahama Island in November.

The Catch: Taxes aren’t included in that $1 fare, so your final ticket won’t amount to a buck — nevertheless, we still think this is a great offer. We went through the booking process, and the lowest total fare we found was $122.58 roundtrip, with all taxes and fees (a $4.99-each-way booking fee is also included) for a November flight from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport.

Keep an eye on baggage fees, too. A $15 charge applies per checked bag on each leg of your flight. And if you don’t pay for your bag ahead of time, you’ll shell out $25 per piece of checked luggage at the airport.

The Competition: Right now, travelers can find discounted fall fares from select U.S. cities to the Bahamas from AirTran Airways. AirTran doesn’t fly to Freeport, but you can get to Nassau for as little as $129 each way plus taxes and fees.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello