Tired of the never-ending and unpredictable fluctuations of airline tickets? Then check out Farecast, a new Web site that looks at trends in airfares over the past ninety days to predict whether the price of the ticket you're hunting for will go up or down. The service works on travel between more than seventy-five U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Farecast also shows you differences in prices by airline and time of day. If you're still looking for bargains, remember to check out online travel sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz, as well as upstarts like Kayak and Sidestep.
Barnstorming Europe Cheaply
If travel to Europe seems out of the question, take another look. Winter is often the least expensive time to visit the continent, and, once you're there, dozens of low-cost airlines offer fares between the various countries that are only slightly pricier than the cost of taking a bus or a ferry. Carriers ranging from easyJet to MyTravelLite, Smart Wings, and Flybaboo offer flights on the cheap. Bmibaby, for instance, will jet you from London to places such as Amsterdam, Belfast, Nice, and Paris for as little as £14 (about $26) each way.
The secret to the low fares: keeping costs extremely low. Most of the low-cost Eurocarriers push as much as 90 percent of their ticketing to the Web, where costs are lower than they would be if the airlines were working with traditional carbon-based life-forms. Many carriers also don't serve the big airport hubs, and instead rely on smaller secondary airports, where they can pay lower landing fees. Meanwhile, everything from sipping a soda while airborne to checking your Samsonite curbside costs the traveler extra.
Once on board, you'll also see a decidedly stripped-down ride. Ryan Air, for instance, is particularly spartan. There are no window shades, the small seats don't recline, and the safety instructions are printed not on a convenient laminated card but on the back of the seat in front of you. Air-sickness bags? Don't ask. Nonetheless, white-knuckle flyers need not worry about the planes they're boarding: Many are newer than the old crates the larger airlines use.
Though a shakeout seems inevitable, the age of inexpensive air carriers will continue to flourish in Europe. The planes of Hapag-Lloyd Express drive home the cheap-and-easy message with a paint job resembling that of a Checker Cab: Flying should be as easy as hailing a taxi -- just as long as you can get one when it's raining.
James Daly is the former editorial director of