Have a question about air travel or airfares? We answer as many as we can, either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in our Q&A column.
Do The "Cheap" Seats Earn Frequent Flyer Miles?
Q: I was researching a fare on the American Airlines website, and found it was about $400 more than booking the same flights and dates on SmartFares.com or Momondo.com (two "discount" airfare sites). Do I risk not being able to earn miles on American Airlines if I buy from those sites? One of these websites only identifies the airline as a "Major Carrier," but it's the same flights as the American Airlines ones so I assume they're on American.
A: As grandpa used to say, you get what you pay for, and yes indeed, some airfare websites specialize in "consolidator" or "wholesale" airfare bargains that appear much cheaper than buying "retail." Here's the problem: Sometimes these lower fares don't qualify for frequent flyer miles, advance seat selection and other perks. Worse, many of these fares are "you buy it you fly it" -- in other words, no changes whatsoever, even if you're willing to pay a change fee.
The ticket is only good for that flight and if you somehow miss it you might as well rip up the ticket. In addition, whereas sometimes if an airline cancels or delays your flight they'll attempt to put you on another airline, typically these cheaper tickets are good only on the original carrier. I'd contact any discount airfare site you're contemplating buying from and see what the hidden restrictions are.
Surprise: It's Sometimes Cheaper To Fly From Canada
Q: I'm thinking of flying from Toronto to Italy. I live in Michigan, about a six-hour drive from Toronto, but the fare from Michigan is $1,450 round-trip whereas it's $887 departing from Toronto. I've been across the Canadian border many times and never had a problem. Is their something that I should be concerned about that I'm not considering?
A: Wow, that's pretty unusual, because normally fares to Europe from Canada are more expensive than from the U.S. However, there are a couple of discount Canadian airlines, such as Air Transat (airtransat.com) that do sometimes offer amazing bargains, especially at the last minute. It really depends on when you're flying.
Checking fares from Toronto to Rome for February travel (I used a departure of Feb. 5 returning Feb. 15), there's not much price difference compared to flying from Detroit, Flint and other Michigan airports -- even from Iron Mountain, MI, which isn't known for low fares. However, checking fares for June travel, you're absolutely right, there's a huge difference. The fare from Toronto to Rome on Air Canada in US dollars is $883 round-trip including taxes compared to $1,443 on the same dates from Detroit.
So I'd look again at fares leaving from Michigan if you're flying in winter, but it's definitely worth driving to Toronto if flying in June. If you do fly from Toronto, be sure to leave time for the occasional unexpected border crossing delay.