BIDDING FOR AIRLINE TICKETS THE INTERNET WAY - The Explorer: Import

BIDDING FOR AIRLINE TICKETS THE INTERNET WAY

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Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2001 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The Neefe clan is gathering in New York later this month and despite the prospect of 90 percent humidity and 90-degree daytime temps, the three Neefe sisters living in Tucson will be making the trip to Rochester.

Our only brother and guardian of the family name lives in Florida. He's making the trip back with his wife, two daughters and a 7-year-old son that no one in the Tucson contingent has ever met.

The sole sister still living in our hometown is hosting the soiree, an event conceived as a high school graduation party for her oldest daughter that has morphed into a full-blown family reunion. Truth be told, no one wants to miss this party.

Baby sister's husband Lou was first to make travel arrangements for his family. He's an old hand at finding cheap airfares on the Internet and this time he scored big.

At Priceline.com he snagged four tickets on American Airlines for $282 each. He saved nearly $800 and even managed to get good connections: one plane change at Chicago's O'Hare during an hour layover. His only regret, he said, was that he didn't bid lower.

Not an online shopper (I've heard too many horror stories) I decided to make my plans the old-fashioned way and spent more than an hour phoning airlines in search of my own screaming deal.

The best I could do was $465 a ticket, supposedly a discount fare. I wasn't paying that much if there was any other way, but I was still a little reluctant when I sat down at the computer. Twenty minutes later, I had two plane tickets to the Empire State, with ideal arrival and departure times, and I paid even less than my brother-in-law. It was way too easy.

I typed Priceline.com in the keyword window of my Internet browser and hit Enter. Seconds later the Priceline homepage appeared and all I had to do was follow the prompts.

I typed in my departure and arrival cities, the dates I wanted to fly and the number of tickets I wanted. The next page offered Tucson International as my departure airport and a choice of four arrival airports.

I chose the Greater Rochester International Airport over the Greater Buffalo or Niagara Falls International airports; the Ithaca-Tompkins County Airport wasn't even a consideration. Then I named my price: $200 per ticket.

Just below the price window was the statement: "The only fees and taxes that will be added to your offer price will be a $5.95 per ticket processing charge and any standard government taxes which typically range from $12 to $36 per ticket."

Sounded fair to me. I'd certainly pay $246 per ticket max, nearly $220 less than I could finagle on the phone. I filled in the passenger information section and didn't select any of the options that could improve my chances of getting the fare I wanted. I just wasn't open to flying between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., making two stops each way or flying a non-jet aircraft, no matter how cheap the ticket.

The next page asked for charge card information and advised me to review the rules on tickets bought through Priceline.com. If the service found seats at the price I offered, the tickets would be purchased immediately and would be non-refundable, non-transferable and unchangeable.

I hesitated for a split second then typed in my initials and sent off my request. For $246 a ticket, I'd risk odd flight times and extended layovers.

Not 10 minutes later the computer announced, "You've got mail!" The email offered a link to Priceline.com and I clicked it.

Seconds later I read: "Congratulations, you got your price of $200. You saved 54%, a total of $552.10, on the total cost of your tickets compared to the lowest fare available for the itinerary shown below."

We're flying American Airlines from Tucson to Rochester with an hour-and-a-half layover and plane change in Chicago. Departure is at 7 a.m. and final arrival at 4:30 p.m. A week later, a 5 p.m. flight, with the same stop, will deliver us home at 9:30 p.m. The arrangements are perfect. I only regret that I didn't bid lower.

Always the skeptic, I called the airline the next day. A young man named Maynard assured me that I did indeed have tickets and gave me a confirmation number and seat assignments for every leg of the trip. And he linked the trip miles to our frequent flyer accounts.

"All you need to do is show up an hour before your departure time with a photo ID and the charge card you used to purchase the tickets," he said. I hung up feeling like I beat the house. Then I called the other sister.

She hadn't made any arrangements yet and my success inspired her. A few hours later, she called back to boast that she bid $160 and got two tickets for $191.95 each.

She and her hubby are stopping in Dallas and Chicago on their way to Rochester, apparently she was lured into checking those options boxes, but they're happy with the arrangements. "I should have bid lower," she said before hanging up.

A few days later, I shared our good news with another pair of transplanted Rochestarians who are heading back in mid-September. They wanted in on the cheap-airfare action and offered to feed me lunch if I came by to help them shop online.

I obliged and we scored two more tickets with a bid of $150 each; final tally $181.95 per passenger.

After reading the confirmation email, we chimed in unison the Priceline.com shoppers' mantra: "We should have bid lower!"

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