|Dawn one Thailand-bound morning as I waited for my connecting flight|
The internet can be a marvelous tool for doing research, but advertising and deceptive linking have almost given it more drawbacks than benefits. Take airline tickets, for example - and we will, today. I can suggest the sources I've used in the past, but since those are only based on my experiences you'll unfortunately have to do some of the legwork on your own.
Online travel forums can be a help, but sometimes the best references can be people you know and trust on one level or another, especially if you consider those sources with some amount of care.
Travel agents can be an enormous help if you're brand new to the idea of international flight, but you still have to do some research yourself if you intend to make an informed decision. Different travel agencies can be allied or connected to different outlets for blocks of discounted seats, and that can be a big help - if you know where to find them. I'd suggest trying several different places, and advice from other travelers can again be the key here.
Dealing directly with the airlines themselves is another way of looking for deals, but fares can change with the direction of the breeze on any given day, and you need to be aware of that and, if possible, do some checking on fares over a period of a couple of weeks. Change your travel dates in their search engines, too, because different days will give you different results. There are also often "classes" of tickets that are priced differently based on the miles awarded for each leg of your journey. If you're one who enjoys that cat and mouse game that adds another dimension of probable frustration; I usually choose not to pay all that much attention to whether I'm getting 100% of my flight miles credited or, say, only 80% of them. It's almost too minor a difference for me to worry about, but that may only be me.
I choose to get to Thailand comfortably, but that level of personal comfort is a relative thing, I know. What may seem fine to me may seem hellish to others. Still, I'd always choose not to spend my holiday money on more of a flight than I need; there are many other things I'd rather spend it on. That said, here are some airlines I'm familiar with, and how I'd rate them overall:
JAL - Japan Airlines - B+
I found the ticketing process, the on-time dependability and the employees I met to all be exemplary. They also did deals with an agency I dealt with about a decade ago, and I got a round-trip economy seat for $610 round trip, with all fees and taxes included.
EVA - EVA Evergreen Airlines - A
My old standby, and where I tend to look first. Booking directly through their site is often fairly simple, and they offer specials from the West coast of the US, especially from LAX (Los Angeles). The cabin staff are very attentive, and they offer a wide range of amenities - especially if you join their free frequent flyer program.
United Airlines - C
Domestic (for me here in California, anyway) airlines are just that: domestic, basic, little or no frills or amenities unless you popping for First Class, and the employees all too often tend to act as if they're doing you a favor by giving you much of any dollar value. I've actually had surly flight attendants. The cabins haven't been up to snuff - for my money, anyway - and I don't find much value to them period.
Cathay Pacific - A
A little more expensive than EVA, but their reservation system, staff, cabin crew and amenities by class are all on the same level as EVA.
If you're concerned about safety overall, you can do a Google search for airline accident rates and find several sites that list safety issues by airline and by region of the globe. I figure any time I'm hurtling along at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet off the ground in a metal tube I'm literally flying on faith that the damn fool thing won't suddenly plunge to the ground, but there's no need to ignore safety records to save a few hundred dollars, either. Do some investigation.
If you intend to book your own tickets, again do some checking on forums or travel sites to see which days of the week (and times of the year) are better buys. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays I've found to be the more reasonably priced days to fly. I've heard from several sources that the best time to be checking for ticket prices is Tuesday 12:00 East coast time, or 09:00 West coast time. Prices can change not only from day to day, but within the same day - for the same identical flight.
Booking well in advance is standard advice worth noting, but there are also "last minute" fares when an airline is trying to fill a flight before cancelling it altogether, too. And then there's just plain old dumb luck...
Let this merely be some food for thought, since some of you are thinking of the cold weather ahead and the warmer days in Thailand. We'll come back to it again with some sources for you at the beginning of next week.
As always, you input is welcome!