It has been my tradition over the past few years, I will be traveling to visit my family in California over Thanksgiving. As usual, I waited too long to purchase the airline tickets. I checked prices a few weeks ago, was discouraged by the high rates, and procrastinated even further. A few nights ago, I decided to take a look again, and surprisingly, my waiting paid off.
My search started with SideStep, a very configurable flight search engine. I made some adjustments to the dates and airports, and started to get a good idea of which combinations would save me money. I eventually decided on a round-trip flight with Continental Airlines, leaving the Saturday before and returning the Friday after Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s probably the worst date of the year for traveling, but I’m pretty sure I can handle it. Plus, I’ll have the remainder of the weekend to recover at home before returning to the day job.
I was hoping to pay for the trip using the miles I’ve accumulated over the past few years. Normally that would be possible with 25,000 miles, but unfortunately, the trips around the holiday are more expensive when it comes to using points. However, the price of the round trip flight is about $270 plus taxes and other fees. I believe this is the least expensive coast-to-coast flight I’ve ever purchased.
While my initial search took advantage of SideStep’s features, I always switch over to the airline’s site for buying the tickets. Usually, more options become apparent. For example, there are flights available on Continental’s website that are not available on partner sites like SideStep or Expedia. From what I can tell, the primary reason for this is overbooking. Both flights would not allow me to select my seating preference, which is an indication that the flights are already full and they’re counting on some customers changing their plans.
I was faced with a similar situation last time I visited California, earlier this year. For one direction, my girlfriend and I were able to select our seats online within a week of the flight, and for the return trip, we had to arrive early and hope that some other customer booked for the trip would not show up. A few minutes before liftoff, we were ushered onto the airplane. In that case, there was no option for us to catch a later flight, so it worked out. This time, if I get bumped to a later flight, I have the flexibility.
Image credit: jonwatson