When it comes to keeping track of airfares, let your fingers do the walking. Sites on the Internet are the '90s version of The Yellow Pages. They are the hip method of monitoring airfares.
Some of the sites offer great deals to spur-of-the-moment travelers.Some allow you to sign up for e-mail that alerts you to bargain basement fares for the coming weekend.
Some let you make online bookings at discounts available only to Web users.
The bad news is that perusing Internet sites can be time-consuming and slow.
Some of the airlines are tiptoeing into the arena that traditionally belonged to travel agents by listing information about rental cars and vacation packages, too.
Here's a rundown on Web sites of major airlines that serve Salt Lake City. Airline Web sites are only one resource for checking airfares.
American Airlines pioneered a weekly e-mail program that sends subscribers a list of low fares for upcoming weekend travel. The program, called Net SAAver, debuted in 1996. There's no charge. Just sign up on the Web site.
It was designed for leisure travelers who can make their plans and pack their bags at the last minute.
For domestic and Canadian destinations, subscribers receive the e-mail list by Wednesday morning. The list for international fares goes out on Mondays.
"We typically offer 25 Net SAAver fares on the domestic list and 10 or 12 on the international list," said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman.
The destinations and the fares change from week to week.
Recent Net SAAver fares were Denver-Dalls/Fort Worth, $129 round trip; Boston-London, $279 round trip.
The site also offers discounts on rental cars and hotels affiliated with American's frequent flier program. If you're lucky, the hotels that offer discounts will be at Net SAVVer fare destinations.
Book the fare using the site or by calling the toll-free phone number listed on the site.
Every Wednesday the site publishes discounted fares for the coming weekend that are available exclusively to online customers. The site also allows online customers to access flight schedules and fares and to book their flight. It also lists "deals of the weeks" that include special sales fares and vacation packages.
The airline will notify you of weekend specials via e-mail. A recent example was a $179 round-trip fare between Salt Lake City and Newark. Sign up for the free e-mail using the Web site, which also alerts you to specials on rental cars and hotels.
The airline occasionally has fare sales for its online audience. One example was a recent Friends Fly For $99 companion fare for people who purchased a ticket online. To be eligible for the sale fare, you must purchase your ticket using the site.
This site has online booking capability through which you can look up fares and flight schedules. No fare sales exclusively for online customers yet. Ditto for e-mail announcements of weekend bargain basement fares. Those are on tap for the future. For now, discounted fares available to all the airlines' customers are prominently displayed on the site's front page.
CyberSaver fares, which are discounted fares for the coming weekend, are posted on the site at 12:01 a.m. each Wednesday. Book on the Internet, in which case your ticket is electronic and you simply show up at the airport with a photo ID and your confirmation number; or write down your confirmation number and then call a Northwest Airlines reservation agent to buy your ticket using your credit card. The CyberSaver program also has special deals on hotel rooms and rental cars. An example of a recent CyberSaver fare is a $99 roundtrip between Salt Lake City and Minneapolis. It was billed as shop 'til you drop at the Mall of America and was good on one specified day. CyberSaver fares are usually for travel on the upcoming weekend, but there are exceptions. The site has featured discounted fares to Europe, for example. The Northwest Airlines Web site has a link to Web site of KLM, its global alliance partner.
Right now the site is more of an information source about the airline than an interactive site for passengers. However, you can reserve a flight using the site.
Southwest has online airfare sales. "We were the first airline to actually have an airfare sale on the Internet," said a spokeswoman. Check the site frequently because sales come and go quickly, with no apparent rhyme or reason. For example, one started at 6 a.m. last July 2 and ended at midnight on July 3. The sale fares published on the site must be purchased through the site. You may also purchase non-sale fares through the site.
Register to receive e-mail announcements about bargain basement fares for upcoming weekends. Book those fares online or by calling the toll-free number listed on the site. You'll receive extra frequent flier miles when you book online. By registering for e-mail, you'll also receive fare sale announcements online. You can specify which city pairs you're interested in.
The newest wrinkle accessed and downloaded through this Web site is United Connection, a travel planner that lets you book your own travel online with over 500 airlines, 45 rental car companies and 30,000 hotels around the world. It lets you check airline schedules, shop for the lowest fares, purchase tickets, select seats and research and reserve hotel rooms and rental cars. It looks to us like United is trying to get a toehold in the travel agent business.
United frequent flyers get 500 extra Mileage Plus bonus miles for every United Airlines one-way trip segment booked through the Web through June 30, 1998.
United's recently remodeled site also has a link to Shuttle by United and an e-mail program to alert you upcoming weekend travel. The e-mail program was announced last week.