THE BLOG
07/25/2012 07:20 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2012

Ask Airfarewatchdog: Flexible Date Airfares, A New Airline Called Star Alliance?

Have a question about travel or airfares? We answer as many as we can, either by email to questions@airfarewatchdog.com or in our Q&A column

Q: I am retired and can fly on a flexible travel schedule. In past years, I've used Travelocity.com and Orbitz.com to pick and choose the cheapest dates to fly, using a flexible "fare calendar" on those websites. But recently I found that this function has disappeared. Where else can I look to find "I'll fly whenever it's cheapest" airfares?

A: You're correct that Travelocity has eliminated its flexible date search tool, which used to allow you to search over several months at a glance. And Orbitz has hidden its flexible date calendar from its home page, although it still exists if you know where to look. Meanwhile, Hotwire.com, Kayak.com and Cheapair.com all have useful flexible date search tools, as does ITAsoftware.com. More suggestions on flexible date airfare search here.

Q: I was at an airport in Canada a few weeks ago and noticed an airline called "Star Alliance." Is that a new airline? I had never heard of it or seen it before.

A: No, it's not a new airline. Star Alliance is an alliance of several major and smaller airlines that have joint marketing agreements. It's similar to two other alliances, SkyTeam and OneWorld, which are both smaller than Star Alliance.

What you noticed is that airlines are repainting some of their planes with the logos of these alliances. Some industry observers predict that eventually these allied airlines will morph into a super-consolidated airline across international borders, although current laws and treaties prevent this from happening and such a consolidation might be decades off, if indeed it ever happens.

Personally, I think it's time to reconsider laws that prevent full ownership by a U.S. airline of a foreign carrier and vice versa. After all, the auto industry is allowed to consolidate across international borders (Fiat's purchase of Chrysler for example), as are most other industries.