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.

Budget Travel – The Low Cost Carrier

Summary: The low cost carrier (LCC) may seem like a new development in the aviation world, but the concept is anything but new. The first real low cost “no frills” airline was Laker Airways, which took off back in 1966 from the UK, and shuttled passengers to destinations all around the world for as little as $50.

Laker Airways provided the inspiration for many of the current low cost carriers, and even major airlines like Virgin Atlantic took a close look at Sir Freddie Laker’s business model to learn from his experiences and mistakes.

A low cost carrier is exactly what the name implies – low cost. In order to offer these low prices, the airline naturally makes some cuts. You won’t find anything “free” on the majority of these carriers. Everything from drinks to checked luggage will add to the price of your ticket, but in return you are able to book an insanely cheap fare.

Finding a low cost carrier: Several days ago, Jeffrey wrote about some basic ways you can find a low cost carrier. This information is very important, because almost all low cost carriers handle their own bookings, and do not participate in sites like Expedia or Travelocity. There are 100’s of low cost airlines out there, so if you can’t find what you are looking for, try entering your destination into Google, and a airline or other resource is bound to pop up.

When not to use a low cost carrier: As you navigate the low cost airline websites, you may notice a trend – many of them do not use the airport you expect them to.

For example; Ryanair flies from London to Brussels. Their destination is not to the “normal” airport of Zaventem, but “Brussels South Airport” in Charleroi. Zaventem airport is just 10 miles from the Brussels city center, Brussels South airport is about 50 miles with no direct rail link.

You’ll need to take this into consideration when you book a ticket, as the trip from Charleroi to Brussels takes about an hour by bus and will add about $30 (round trip) to your ticket.

The same goes for many other airport destinations serviced by a low cost carrier. Before you hit “purchase now”, always pull the airport up on a map, and check out the airport site to determine just how much of a hassle it will be to get to your final destination. Saving $50 on a ticket is meaningless if you have to spend another $50 just to get to your hotel.

The low carrier will not always warn you about these remote destinations, so make sure you do your homework. One more thing to keep in mind is that many of these airports are low cost themselves, so do not expect too many facilities.

Too good to be true? When you research a low cost carrier, and compare their prices with a normal carrier, you’d be forgiven if you wondered whether the whole thing is too good to be true.

If you come across a $3 fare on Ryanair, don’t be too suspicious, these carriers sell millions of tickets, and many of them do indeed start that low. In fact, some of these airlines are amongst the largest in the world, all thanks to those cheap tickets.

Of course, you do need to keep in mind that even tickets on a low cost carrier are subject to taxes and other surcharges, so your $5 ticket could easily become $60.

Competition = good: Don’t always depend on the low cost carrier. On routes within Europe where competition is stiff, you’ll often be able to find similar rates on the legacy carriers. For example; easyJet charges about $42 for a one way ticket from London Luton to Amsterdam. But British Airways charges just $68 for a flight from the much nicer Heathrow airport to Amsterdam. If you are on a budget, but still have a little cash to spare, consider your comfort before committing to a low cost carrier.

Booking on a low cost carrier: As i mentioned earlier, don’t expect to use your favorite booking site to book a ticket on a low cost carrier. All these carriers handle their own bookings. This means you’ll have to select the cheapest airline yourself.

A great place to start is FlyLowCostAirlines.org, this site has most major low cost carriers in their database, and allows you to enter your destination to locate all the low cost carriers that operate on that route.

Low cost carriers are everywhere! When you think of low cost carriers, most people will think of the airlines they recognize – Spirit, JetBlue and Southwest are all very well known in the US.

There are however 100’s of other low cost carriers around the world. Heading to India? Check out GoAir. Going to China? Take a flight on Spring Airlines. A convenient list of all the low cost carriers in the world can be found at Wikipedia.

Get your expectations straight: There is no easy way to say this – low cost carriers are not a luxurious way to travel. If you are used to flying in the first or business class cabin, and having a flight attendant look after all your needs, then a low cost carrier is going to be mighty disappointing.

Book your ticket with the correct expectations, and your flight will be just fine. Remember, most of these flights are under 2 hours, and the money you saved will go towards a nice dinner at your destination. If you board the plane expecting full service, then you are going to be in for a nasty surprise.

What to be on the lookout for: Every low cost carrier will do what it can to “upsell”. During your booking process, you’ll be offered all kinds of additional services, for a fee.

Some of these services may be cheaper than buying them directly, but others may not be the best value out there. If you have money to spare, you may want to consider paying for “priority boarding”, which allows you to board in the first group, greatly increasing your chance of getting a decent seat. This is especially important if you are traveling in a group and do not want to be split up.

Remember, almost no low cost carriers do the seat assignment game, so as soon as the boarding doors open, you are on your own to snag the seat you want.

One other thing to keep in mind, is that not all airlines let you check in for free at the airport. Ryanair is a good example of an airline that charges for checking in at the airport, so don’t be surprised if your family is charged an additional fee, just because you were not able to do an online checkin.

Budget Travel: 7 Quick tips for cheap airplane tix

Spending some time on the road this year? Chances are, you’re going to have to battle the internets for a good deal on your flight. But what to do when the prices are sky high and your wallet is recession skinny?

Most respectable travel websites out there have giant lists, strategies and flow charts about the best way to get the absolute best price. It works, but it can be complicated, and in a busy world like this, few of us have time to look through an ITA Matrix and calculate the most optimum routing.

Don’t know what an ITA Matrix is? Then keep reading for our quick tips to getting the best price on airplane tickets.

  • Flexible Flexible Flexible: There’s a reason that Kayak has a “flexible dates” option in their search engine. Traveling on Fridays and Sundays are most expensive (highest demand,) so if you can, try Thursday or Monday. Monday AM flights are often drastically less expensive and you can still often get into work by 10.
  • Book early: Probably more than a month out. Definitely more than two weeks. If it’s inside of a week, drive or take a hot air balloon.
  • Use a metacrawler: Given that we just mentioned Kayak, we should point out this important tip: Always use a metacrawler. Both Kayak and Mobissimo search engines search all of the traditional search engines on the market AND airline websites, so you can guarantee that you’re not shelling out extra cash on a third party website.
  • Check the Low Cost Carrier: Southwest doesn’t publish its fares on the regular search engines, so make sure you do a cross check at southwest.com before you book your ticket.
  • Search nearby airports: Flying out of Los Angeles? Make sure you check Long Beach (LGB,) Santa Ana (SNA) and Ontario (ONT) as well. Airports with a large LCC presence often have more competitive fares.
  • Look for coupons: As our friends at Airfarewatchdog (AFWD) recently pointed out, promo codes are the way that airlines are going this year. American, Virgin America and JetBlue are among the carriers that frequently used coupons last year and you can expect moreto come. Not sure where to find codes? Check with AFWD or your respective carrier over at flyertalk.com.
  • Consider a consolidator: For international travel, consolidators often buy tickets in a discounted block and pass the savings onto passengers. Hotwire.com and airlineconsolidator.com are both fairly simple sites that you can use, or you can always use a local (physical) source.

Finally, the best piece of advice we can give is to be patient. If you’ve got a few months before your dates of travel, set up a fare alert at Kayak. You have to create an account, but once you do, you can have the software automatically search for your fare every day and report to you when the price drops.