I recently came across the following article on "Finding travel deals before the skies open" by Shelly Emling. I found the article very informative since it contains additional links to finding cheap air fares and talks about strategies on how to get them.
Here is the article:
"A hard fought agreement to open up the trans-Atlantic airline market hold out the promise of slightly cheaper airfares - next spring.
Until then, consumers will have to rely on their own ingenuity to drive down the price of travel. Fortunately, there is a lot of help available, both virtual and human.
In late March, European Union transport ministers approved an "open sky" deal allowing EU airlines to fly from any city in the 27-n ation bloc to the United States, and vice versa. It will come into force on March 28, 2008.
"Open Skies won't have much effect on this summer's travel season" said Henry Harteveldt, a travel specialist at Forrester Research in San Francisco. "By next spring though, it will be a different game altogether.
"Long term, I see some additional competition taking place and that may lead to better pricing for both leisure and business travelers," he said. "Already Virgin Atlantic" has announced its intentions to fly from major continental European capitals to the United States."
But even before the benefits of the Open Skies agreement kick in, consumers can still find plenty of travel deals by searching the Internet. They just have to know where to look and how to search.
There are sites like www.TravelSupermarket.com,www.Cfares.com,www.SideStep.com and www.FlyCheapo.com that can help consumers research plane fares and hotel rates.
The site www.mobissimo.com has won plaudits for being especially good for international travel.
The dominant online travel sites like www.expedia.com and www.orbitz.com remain popular because they allow you to book your airfare, hotel, and car rental all at the same time.
"I prefer Expedia just because I know they are reliable and their prices are competitive" said Sherry Kerrigan, an American living in London who travels frequently. "I usually search throlgh other sites like Opodo, but ultimately 90 percent of the time I buy through Expedia. I like their customer rating systsem and it is a fairly easy site to navigate."
One of the cheapest ways to get around Europe these days, of course, is by flying on one of the growing number of budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet. A good site to help you figure out which low-fare carriers serve the destination you have in mind is www.whichbudget.com
A new service from www.farecast.com offers free predictions on whether a fare you're considering is likely to rise or fall in the near future. When you enter your origin and destination cities, plus your preferred travel dates, the site shows the lowest current fare and a prediction of whether it is likely to go up, go down or remain the same for the next seven days.
Although currently available only for domestic travel within the United States, there are plans to offer an international service int he future.
"Farecast does not sell tickets but rather directs consumers directly to airline Web sites for booking" said Anne Taylor Hartzell, a spokeswoman for the company. Farecast has just introduced a new product FareGuard, that gives customers a week to lock in the lowest fare for a trip at a cost of $9.95. It allows travelers to put a low fare on the shelf and continue to shop.
At the same time, travel packages are also an excellent way to stretch the travel budget, Harteveldt said. "These can help save on both air and accommodation especially in cities where hotel demand is high," he said, "This is an area where the agency sites have a lead."
In addition, the tried and true hints still apply: Consider flying midweek, when fares tend to be low, or plan to make a trans-Atlantic trip in the fall or winter, when fares drop.
Betty Stark, a travel industry consultant based in Madison, Wisconsin, said consumers should also check airline Web sites to find good deals, since airlines often post fares that are not available anywhere else - including from a traditional travel agency.
"The downside is that airline web sites don't always display all the fare options to a destination," she said.
Stark said that consumers also should take advantage of "fare-compare alerts" that scan airline databases and send e-mails to customers to let them know if a new fare is lower than an existing fare to a specified destination. These services claim to update airfares within three minutes, which is supposedly faster than the airlines alert their own subscribers.
The multiplicity of online resources, Stark said, is having an unintended consequence: the return of the traditional travel agent, "at least for corporate travelers who are burned out on the online search process."
Most travel agencies mow have the ability to book Web fares, and since the sites charge booking fees as well, "the playing field is leveling," she said.
And in travel-related crisis, like a terror alert or canceled flights, agents earn their fee: "When something goes wrong," Stark said, "they are there."