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Students seeking bargain airfares

From Anne Marie Razza, airfare expert

(Orbitz) -- Untamed wanderlust and a meek budget: It's an unfair, but common malady on college campuses. Luckily, it's not terminal.

There are many ways for students to snag a bargain airfare using the Internet. But you have to consider what type of fare you purchase; who is selling the ticket; as well as when and where you travel. Here's some advice -- and some caveats -- for finding budget-friendly fares:

Orbitz, for example, has partnered with Student Universe, an online travel site for college students and faculty. Students or teachers register with an ".edu" e-mail address, which must be verified before "qualifying" to receive travel discounts. Choices of airline or departure time may be limited, but the savings can be worth it. You can make a reservation only for yourself through Student Universe.

If you're traveling with a companion, you might want to check online travel agencies for companion fares -- specials for parties of two or more traveling together. To get these fares, you and your companion must always be on the same flight. If one person changes flight plans, that could mean higher fares for each traveler -- even the passenger who adheres to the original itinerary.

Web-only fares are another category of bargain fares available only through the Internet. For even deeper discounts, look for Weekend Web Fares. Airlines trying to unload inventory release these fares early Wednesday morning for travel beginning Thursday, Friday or Saturday and returning Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. It's perfect for a last-minute trip. Orbitz' Flex Search also provides an easy, quick way to find the cheapest weekend to fly in a month.

Some sites, like Hotwire, also allow you to bid on fares. However, you don't find out the airline or flight times until you make the purchase. Some students also swear by consolidators, who re-sell tickets they have bought in bulk from the airline.

Other adventurous types choose to fly internationally as a courier for a shipping company. In exchange for a cheap seat on a courier flight, you typically forfeit your checked baggage allowance (the freight fills your checked-baggage allotment) and may be required to hand off courier documents.

You'll have a better chance of finding a cheaper fare if you avoid peak hours of travel, such as early morning and late afternoon. Midday departures and red-eyes are often cheaper. Additionally, try departing midweek, such as Wednesday or Thursday, and return on a Monday or Tuesday.

Another way to find low airfares is to choose a less-crowded, less-expensive airport to fly into or out of. The airport may be farther from the center of town, but the low airfare and savings on the flight may offset the extra cost of a taxi or rental car. Alternate airports include Midway in Chicago; Burbank and Orange County in Southern California; Providence, Rhode Island, and Manchester, New Hampshire in the Boston area.

And don't forget about off-season opportunities. Choosing to visit a location when the tourist season is waning can be a great way to score a reasonable airfare to a pretty cool place. Plus smaller crowds usually mean shorter lines at attractions and more opportunities to meet locals.

The last piece of advice is to avoid paper-ticket fees. Pick an e-ticket over a paper ticket when given the choice between the two. Unlike a paper ticket, e-tickets carry no extra processing and shipping fees. Plus, they're impossible to lose -- an excellent feature for those who keep their dorm rooms, let's just say, less than fastidious.

Anne Marie Razza is a 24-year veteran of the travel industry. Copyright 2002 LLC

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