The truly “extraordinary” airfare deal has become much more elusive in the past couple years – the Airlines are getting smarter, their evil computers track our travel habits and use the data against us, cutting flights, raising prices; It’s done wonders for their bottom line – but it sucks for the budget traveler!
Don’t get me wrong, the extraordinary deal is still out there, buried deep in some airline’s database – but to ferret it out you’ll have to spend all day searching dozens of travel booking websites, and who has time for that?
You guessed it —— Deal Alert Websites!
What Can Airfare “Deal Alert” websites Do for Me?
Airfare alerts sites serve two purposes:
- To alert you daily or weekly, by email, to the aforementioned “extraordinary deal”.
- To alert you instantly when your pre-selected fare between two cities changes (goes up or down).
It’s like having your own personal robot travel agent who’s only purpose in life is to roam the net, night and day, looking for the absolutely rock bottom price for your selected destination.
Keep in mind that the best deals on these sites are often reserved for the ultra-flexible traveler – someone who may not have a concrete date or destination in mind, but instead is willing to go where-ever the deals take them.
The extraordinary deals disappear quickly, sometimes within several hours of posting as the really good ones are often mistakes made by the airline’s evil computers – like the recent $420 RT from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. YEOUCH!
Most of the major online travel brokers have added airfare alerts to their websites, but they are not all created equal – many are just a ruse to capture your email address so they can spam you with random fares disguised as “cheap travel deals“.
To keep your inbox blissfully clear of travel spam stick to my Top 5:
Top 5 Deal Alert Websites
While most of the alert services such as those run by Kayak, Orbitz and Priceline use computer programs to find their “deal fares” Smartertravel uses real human beings to search for deals, this allows them to find unadvertised fares that the automated search engines can’t.
It also puts up a line of defense between you and the dubious bait and switch fares that often appear on automated fare alert sites; Smartertravel operatives actually test if seats are available at the listed prices – which they quite often aren’t!
Smartertravel offers several flavors of fare alerts:
- Last-Minute Airfares – The site is best known for its extensive and easily sorted reporting on last minute weekend deals. The Last-Minute Airfare Specials newsletter is delivered weekly and covers time-sensitive sale fares on flights that depart from the airport of your choice.
- Fare Flash – The Fare Flash newsletter delivers the Top 10 airfare bargains of the week for flights that depart from the city/region of your choice.
- Frequent Flyer Mile Alert – Mile Alert advises frequent flyers on the latest ways to earn and use miles, including opportunities to earn miles without flying.
You can also view all the deals directly from Smartertravel’s website.
Like Smartertravel, Airfarewatchdog uses real-live human beings to find their deals. The site’s owner, George Hobicas and his team scour the internet for low fares and post regular updates, sometimes twice a day.
There aren’t as many subscription options as Smartertravel, but I like the simple, intuitive interface. You can sign up for daily or weekly email updates on cheap flights departing from a particular airport(s), then just kick back and wait for the watchdogs to send you deals.
The email alerts are limited so to see all the deals I would recommend visiting the Airfarewatchdog website where you can find a daily Top 50 Airfares – this list is not based on a specific departure city, but instead displays the best-of-the-best deals which could be departing from anywhere in the United States.
Last time I checked their Top 50 listed a round trip flight from Boston to Dublin, Ireland for $370… Nice!
For Airfarewatchdog’s UK site CLICK HERE
This is one of the new breed of automated fare comparison and alert systems and is my first choice for keeping track of fares between two specific cities. The fare alert sign up procedure is extremely clear and easy to use:
Go to FareCompare.com and run a search for a city pair, when the results appear click on the “Alert Me on Price Drops” link in the right hand “Quick Links” menu, Farecompare will display the following pop-up…
Click on the “Monitor my trip!” button. It’s that simple! You can sign up for as many individual city pair alerts as you like and chose to have FareCompare alert you when the price drops, rises or both.
Farecompare gets its data from a company called ATPCO, which processes fares from the airline computer systems and delivers them to travel agencies up to three times a day, so FareCompare’s automated system offers faster response times than the human-centric sites listed above. Emails go out as soon as lowered fares hit the databases.
Priceline has a nice email alert system, but signing up is a bit of a pain in the ass. Instead of simply clicking on a button after finding a specific fare, as is the case with FareCompare, you have to perform the following steps:
- 1. Go to Priceline’s home page and in the top-most menu to the right hover your mouse over the “sign in” link, then pull down to “register”
- 2. The registration page will ask you for quite a bit of information, fill it out and click “register”
- 3. On the next page go back to the top-most menu and hover your mouse over the “my profile” link. Drag down and choose “deal preferences”. Since you are not officially signed in yet, the next page will ask you for your email address and security question that you specified in the registration process. Fill ‘em in, press enter…
- 4. This should take you to the “deal preferences” page which looks a little something like this:
- 5. Phew! Now you can actually start choosing the options for your email alerts. You’ll be able to figure this next part out with a bit of fiddling. Note that you’ll have to choose the “international” option under the destination drop down box to access countries outside the USA. It took me a minute to figure this one out.
I know it’s alot of work, but Priceline has some of the best day-to day-fares on the net, so it stands to reason they would have some pretty good “deal fares” too.
This site is best known for predicting if an airfare on a particular route is going to go up, go down, or stay the same over a period of time. But it also offers a lightning fast alert system. I usually receive my price updates from Farecast several hours before Farecompares. Farecast uses airfare data from ITA Software, which, according to some expert, is more accurate than he data that Farecompare uses.
While Farecast is great for keeping track of specific travel itineraries, their “travel deal” emails are rather limited. The sign up process is simple, but lacks the options provided by Farecompare and Priceline.
For a more comprehensive listing of deals you’ll have to go to Farecast’s website which offers some unique features like the aforementioned price tracking feature. (see green arrows to left)
Now, go find some cheap fares!
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