Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

united airlines airplaneI was hunched over my laptop, searching for flights to Montreal, when I hit pay dirt. I’d first checked fares a month or two earlier, only to see unpalatable prices in the $500’s and $600’s for a roundtrip flight from the East Coast. But when I looked this time, they were under $350. Score!

Excited, I consulted Bing.com/travel, which offers a Price Predictor tool that advises travelers whether to purchase or wait for a cheaper fare. “Buy,” said Bing, claiming with “80% confidence” that fares would continue to rise. Clearly the time was right to pull out my credit card.

Except for one little problem. It was a Saturday night, and I couldn’t book until I’d confirmed my desired vacation days at the office on Monday. Who knew how much the fares might change in 48 hours?

Then I noticed an option called “FareLock” on the United Airlines Web site. “United’s FareLock service allows you to hold your itinerary and fare for 72 hours or seven days, for a fee, and is available on select flights. So go ahead and book your flight while you complete and confirm your travel plans. Our FareLock service will guarantee an available seat and the fare you were quoted at the time you booked your reservation.”

Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

I’d never been so happy to pay an airline fee in my life. For a nonrefundable $14, I was able to hold my seats, itinerary and fare for the following week, giving me time to clear my vacation days with the office and to keep an eye on the fare to make sure it didn’t drop any lower. It didn’t; nor did it go up as I’d feared. In the end the sub-$350 fare was still available a week later when I finally booked it, and would have been even without the FareLock. But as someone who’s been burned in the past by wildly fluctuating airfares, I don’t consider that $14 wasted — to me, the peace of mind was worth every penny.

FareLock has been around for nearly two years now (it started as a Continental service, then was adopted by United after the carriers merged). So why haven’t more airlines followed suit? It seems like a win/win: useful for travelers who need a little more time to book, and lucrative for airlines that are eager to scoop up yet more revenue in fees. As of now, the only airlines I know of that offer similar services are KLM, whose “Time to Think” option allows travelers to lock in an itinerary for up to two weeks, and Spanish carrier Vueling, which permits a 24-hour reservation hold.

See the Latest Worldwide Airfare Sales

A new Web site called steadyfare.com, currently in beta, could offer some promise on this front. The site allows travelers to lock in a given “steadyfare” for a particular itinerary, and hold it for two to four weeks. But the site is a long way from prime time; the airports and travel dates available are currently very limited, and you can’t yet choose your preferred airline or flight schedule.

Have you used FareLock or similar services on other airlines? Are they worth the price?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane women laptopDutch airline KLM recently launched “Meet and Seat,” an opt-in program whereby would-be fliers can share their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, which are integrated into an airplane seating chart. The social benefits are easy to grasp: Agree to meet for a pre-flight beer (or non-alcoholic beverage), share a taxi after the flight or even choose a like-languaged seatmate, who may in turn choose to sit elsewhere based on your profile pic, triggering a virtual game of cat and mouse.

The program is currently only offered to solo fliers booked on three flights — Amsterdam to New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo — but KLM says there are expansion plans in the works.

We’re all for an airline offering a free means to enhance the experience of being wedged into seat for seven hours — and it got us musing: Which other travel scenarios could benefit from a little pre-trip social engagement?

1. At-sea meat and eat (note the pun). While more flexible alternatives are available, nearly all cruise ships still offer the popular set-time, set-seating model in their main dining rooms. Chatting with strangers over dinner can be an exciting prospect … until Ron drops a comment about “the liberal media,” and Steve, a journalist, turns his lobster tail into a weapon. Lines do try to match diners a bit by age, but it would be a novel concept to give the power to the passenger.

2. Bus buddy. Megabus and BoltBus, the U.S. coach companies touting $1 starting fares (alas, I haven’t landed one yet), could certainly adopt KLM’s model, minus the pre-assigned seating. Given the operators’ young audience of assumed Facebook users, we have every confidence that there’d be many takers. After all, it’s more enjoyable to mock the explosion of sound coming from a neighbor’s headphones when the laughter can be shared. The pre- and post-trip incentives — again, that beer and taxi share — are also built in.

Why You Should take the Bus on Your Next Trip

3. Tour with your new best friends. No doubt you want to take that full-day excursion from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Masada. But as a travel writer who often flies solo or in tandem, I’ve been stuck too many times on the right tour with the wrong crowd. I’ll never forget an excursion in Cairo where fellow travelers had an hour-long conversation about which of their friends and acquaintances were obese. Others on the tour refused to de-bus a few hours in because they were sick of all these pyramids, “which look exactly the same.” Needless to say, the tour suffered from the lack of interest in the surrealistic profundity of a 5,000-year-old tomb rising 400 feet into the sky. Condescension aside, if we could only join a tour group based on common interests, every traveler would be a little happier.

Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

Now it’s your turn: Is there a travel scenario you’d like to see socialized … or a company that’s already doing it?

– written by Dan Askin