I admit to an ulterior motive in interviewing Jeff Klee, the founder and CEO of CheapAir.com. Just as the name indicates, CheapAir.com is an online travel agency focused on finding customers the lowest possible price for air travel.
This summer, like each of the past two, I had to buy four tickets to Minneapolis. I'm always amazed at how much they cost. Surely Klee would have an answer to this, right? Turned out he did, and he saved me a chunk of change. Here's how to use the same strategy for any of your business travel needs.
Klee admits that summer travel, whether business or personal, is especially challenging. Prices for domestic travel go up significantly; prices for international destinations hit the stratosphere. Still, there’s no law that says you have to overpay.
Klee said that one of the best ways to avoid paying too much is to book tickets for a group one by one.
To make this work, and reduce the risk that you'll end up with a super-expensive ticket, it helps to know a bit about how airlines set prices.
Every airline, says Klee, will have 10 to 15 prices for each flight. How much you pay depends on how full the flight is. "When fares are changing, its not so much that the airlines are constantly repricing," says Klee. "It's that the lowest fare seats are getting sold out." As a result, you get pushed into the next highest price bracket.
If, on the other hand, the flight isn't filling up, the airline will open up more seats at a lower fare. As you get closer to the departure date, the odds are much better that the prices will go up than that they'll go down.
Now, say you need to buy four tickets. You'd think you’d be entitled to a better deal, since you're buying in bulk. Wrong. If there are only two tickets available at the lowest price, you're going to be pushed up into the next price bracket that has four tickets available. That's not what you want. You want the two tickets in the lowest price bracket. Then you want the next cheapest ticket, and the next cheapest after that. After all, they're all on the same flight.
The solution is to search for your tickets one-by-one, and figure out how many tickets are available at each price level. In the example above, you can buy the two tickets in the lowest price bracket, and then buy the two others individually.
If you do this online, there is a small chance that someone else will jump in line ahead of you, and you'll either have to pay an exorbitant price for that last ticket or put your party on two different flights. That's why Klee suggests booking your ticket with an agent -- yes, on an actual telephone --rather than online if at all possible.
Give it a try. For four round-trip tickets to Minneapolis, I had been finding prices starting at about $512 per ticket. When I looked for just one ticket, I found one for about $370. If I had been traveling with colleagues, I would have booked that one immediately and then looked for the next cheapest ticket.
In this case, I wasn't going to buy individual tickets, because I couldn't take the chance that one (very young) person was going to end up flying on her own. Each ticket in the cheapest pair was about $390; the next least-expensive pair had tickets starting at $450. By buying the tickets in pairs, I paid about $1,680, saving about $368 over the "buy-em-all-together" price.
After learning first-hand how anxiety-provoking this can be, I completely agree with Klee: Do this on the phone--not online--if at all possible. That being said: To save $368? The stress was totally worth it.