Budget Travel: StudentUniverse.com

Do students know how good they have it? Discounted travel, I mean. They even have their own discount student travel agencies that book travel that’s cheaper and tailored to their needs, which anybody older than 26 years-old couldn’t cash in on.

When I was a student, I tapped into STA Travel, which is still going strong with those spring, summer, and winter break deals. But it’s only recently that I’ve heard of the other student discounter on the block: StudentUniverse.com.

They’re an online travel agency out of Waltham, Massachusetts that gives students the resources to research and buy discounted travel products (hotels, flights, rail, cars, hostels) online. They get the extra-good deals because they have special agreements with 30 airlines, including many of the big players like American, Air France-KLM SA, United, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and British Airways PLC.

Which do you like better: STA or StudentUniverse?
At a glance, STA and StudentUniverse are similar–both target the same demographic of 18-25 year-old students (as well as teachers), focus on student travel periods, and work with most major carriers and offer hotels, travel packages, destination guides, etc.

You can book with either company to get the perks of a student ticket:
• Book closer to the departure date
• Buy one-way tickets at half the cost of a round-trip ticket
• Stay up to one year (whereas other round-trip tickets are restricted to 30 days)
• Get reduced fees for refunds and changes, in comparison to non-student tickets

All of these things are ideal for students who need the flexibility when they don’t know the exact dates of exams or returning home from a summer abroad.

But each company stands out for different reasons.

• Offers in-person consultation at more than 100 offices across the US. Students may enjoy researching online, but find that it’s comforting and encouraging to talk with someone in person.

• Doesn’t require an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), and instead verifies student status through its own proprietary web technology
• Offers flexible date search, which allows you to simultaneously search three days before and after your preferred dates
• Gives you the chance to offset your carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions with renewable energy credits (REC) through ECO2llege Class service for less than $10 per round-trip flight

But when it comes down to it, it’s all about price, right? I compared prices for myself: testing out StudentUniverse and STA (along with Orbitz, Cheaptickets, and Kayak) on routes within the US, and between the US and the Pacific, Europe, Asia, and Central America.

What I found surprised me. I figured that StudentUniverse and STA would be neck and neck, with the flights on the other websites coming in as more expensive. But Kayak and STA ended up tied as the strongest. It made sense that StudentUniverse’s prices improved compared with the others when I tried to book closer to the departure date (four weeks in advance, rather than seven weeks), but Kayak and STA still proved to be the cheapest.

The exception was the US-Europe route and several of the one-way tickets, where StudentUniverse was the best. At four weeks out on a round-trip Chicago-Paris flight, StudentUniverse was $508, STA was $556, Orbitz was $574, Cheaptickets was $574, and Kayak was $563. For a one-way Chicago-Paris flight, StudentUniverse was $231, STA was $264, Orbitz was $468, Cheaptickets was $468, and Kayak was $279.

Lesson learned: I’d recommend that students take the time to search several websites, and consider StudentUniverse for its strengths–one-way tickets and US-Europe flights.

If you’re in the middle of booking your spring break trips through StudentUniverse, let us know your experience. While you’re on the website, you might want to sign up for the chance to win $100 every day in their Spring Break Oh-Nine Giveaway.

You can also stay connected with StudentUniverse on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.