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Web site keeps eye out for best fares

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Tom Parsons recalls a day many years ago when he was sitting next to a colleague on an airplane. They were going to the same place and had used the same travel agent, but his colleague had paid $100 less for his ticket than Parsons had paid.

"He was more savvy than I was. I was a greenhorn," said Parsons during a telephone interview with the Deseret News from his office in Arlington, Texas.He is no longer a greenhorn. Since then, Parsons has become an expert at finding ways to save travel dollars, and he has created a job for himself by passing them along to the traveling public.

He is the heart and soul and the driving force behind (www.bestfares.com), considered one of the best discount travel sites on the Internet, and Best Fares Discount Travel magazine. And he is the author of a book describing money-saving strategies called "Insider Travel Secrets."

A subscription to Best Fares online, which costs $59.95 a year, includes a subscription to Best Fares Travel Discount magazine and a copy of Tom Parsons' book, "Insider Travel Secrets."

If you want to subscribe only to Best Fares Discount Travel magazine, call 800-880-1234. A year's subscription is $59.95.

If you want only the book, "Insider Travel Secrets" is available at bookstores. The suggested retail price is $19.95.

The Web site explains how to subscribe to the online service.

If you subscribe to the online service, you may purchase discounted fares that have been negotiated by Parsons with suppliers and are sold exclusively by Texas travel companies that were hand-picked by him. You will see them listed on the site as Best Fares Air Travel Plus, Best Fares International Air Travel, etc.

By subscribing to the online service, you are essentially becoming a member of Tom Parson's travel club.

Although the site's primary mission is to serve subscribers, anyone with a PC that's hooked up to the Internet may access it free of charge.

The site lists discounted airfares, car rentals, cruises, train trips and hotel rooms. Most of the discounts are available only to subscribers, although anyone may take a peek at the subscriber-only deals.

Recent examples of subscriber-only discounts include a $159 roundtrip from Salt Lake City to Houston, a roundtrip fare of $350 from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C. (no advance purchase necessary), and a roundtrip ticket between Salt Lake City and New York City for $235.

Parsons also negotiates fares to foreign destinations. "We have two or three different contracts for Europe," he said. "Right now, our wholesaler should be able to sell it (a roundtrip ticket between Salt Lake City and London) for $574 for June travel through our travel club."

The club has a tempting offer on car rentals. Parsons negotiated express waivers with four or five different companies that let Best Fares subscribers head directly to the car lot and pick out the car of their choice, avoiding the line at the airport counter. You show your express waiver card and your credit card before you drive off the lot.

Some of the discounts on the Best Fares Web site are available to everyone, subscribers and non-subscribers alike, and you may book them through your travel agent or by contacting the airline (or the hotel, or the car rental company) directly. These discounts are listed on the site's News Desk.

The Snooze You Lose deals usually offer the deepest discounts, but they also come and go quickly. They may be available for only a few hours.

Recent examples of News Desk listings, which, again, are available to the general public, is a $158 roundtrip fare from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, no advance purchase necessary, and a $182 roundtrip fare from Salt Lake City to Hawaii.

The site also lists coupons that can help you stretch your travel dollars even more.

As is true with virtually any Internet address, perusing the site takes time. The percentage of News desk deals that apply to Salt Lake City is relatively small, but you may be able to find discounts between other city pairings that you could hook up to using a cheap flight from Salt Lake City.

The advantage of the Web is that it can alert you to deals more quickly than newspaper ads and press releases.

"We have beaten the airlines with their own press releases by as much as 24 hours," said Parsons.

His staff searches airline reservation systems for good deals to post on bestfares.com. They include the e-mail alerts that are issued every week by the airlines.

"At least we can keep the consumer pretty well informed. We beat the airlines on the number of fares we put up every month."

Travel agents are also good sources of airfare information. "The local travel agent is still an important person," he said. "There are many of my deals that consumers have to take to their travel agent."

He points out, however, that a travel agent in Salt Lake City may not always monitor airfares out of other cities. "How does a travel agent in Salt Lake City know about a cheap fare to Hawaii from Los Angeles?" he asked.

Although Parsons enjoys serving the traveling public, sometimes he's amazed at what people expect.

"If there's anything I learn from John Q. Public (it's) when I'm doing TV talk shows and radio shows and I have a fare that's outrageously low, I still get comments, `Do you think it could go lower?' "

Whatever your destination, our advice, as always, is to shop around. Best Fares is yet another tool to keep in mind when you're looking for ways to get the most for your money.

Reader participation

Do you want to share your suggestions on how your fellow Deseret News readers can get the most for their money on a vacation or business trip? Mail it to Travel Section, Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84111, or e-mail it to clayton@desnews.com.