business

Fly the Frugal Skies

While the smart small-business owner keeps uncertainty to a minimum, when it comes to air travel, last-minute bookings save money

Buy your air ticket close to your departure date via the Web, and you'll probably get a better deal than if you purchased the same airline seat through a travel agent well in advance. That's the conclusion drawn by a recent survey conducted by FareChase, a travel-industry provider of search-engine and fare-matching technology.

The New York City-based outfit based its finding on a comparative survey of online and travel-agency fares available on 400 popular U.S. business routes -- such as New York-Los Angeles and Denver-Seattle -- by checking fares and availability for May 27 departures and May 29 returns.

The finding: Fares available online undercut those offered by travel agents through their own computerized booking systems by an average of 24%.

MAKING TIME, CUTTING COSTS.

  Those figures shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Airlines, which have long sought to eliminate the commissions they pay to travel agents, have embraced the Web as a way to sell cheaper tickets directly to the public. As expected, the survey found that travel agents' prices were not only higher than those offered by online travel sites such as Expedia and Orbitz, they also were much more inexpensive than those offered by the airlines' own Web sites.

What the survey's conclusion neglects to mention is what travel agents always cite as their strong suite: convenience. Online travel shoppers still need to spend a lot of time checking for fares on multiple sites, since automated fare-checking tools generally don't track every one of the myriad travel sites. But if time is money, it may pay to expend a little more of the former to retain much more of the latter.

By Alex Salkever

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