Had a little incident Wednesday. For about 30 minutes, I became obsessed with hunting down and capturing a cheap airline ticket price I had seen two days earlier but had disappeared within 24 hours. Next thing I knew I had signed myself up for about six email alerts from various websites and I was tweeting at the account for American Airlines. I checked various travel sites — you know them, Orbitz, Priceline, Hotwire, and company — and at one point after entering various dates on Kayak I watched in horror as about 24 separate windows popped up on my computer screen, all of them offering basically the same prices, taunting me with their consistency.
Once it had all died down I felt a bit sheepish, checked to see if any hairs were out of place and if anyone would use the words wild, eyed and frenzy when describing me. Then I continued on my day. Still, I like to think many people would have acted like this if they had the chance to save a thousand bucks.
The only thing people hate more than flying is searching for tickets so they can actually go flying. We check a couple of flights with some regularity. I’ve always had some alerts set up for New York to Minneapolis flights in case something good pops up and we can plan a trip home. And every so often I check in on New York to Cape Town trips, though we don’t have the same flexibility with that trek because we only travel between December and February. In addition to email notifications I’m never sure when the best time is to search for good tickets. Tuesday mornings, one story says. But then I’ll read something about Monday deals and you never know, some obscure blog will report, sometimes Wednesdays work. At least it did for one family who flew from Atlanta to LA for 100 dollars. I always feel like I’ve missed something — I bet a ticket from LaGuardia to Minneapolis was 50 dollars cheaper 18 hours earlier.
When I do finally buy a ticket I try to keep myself from checking that flight in the weeks following the purchase. Could I handle seeing the price suddenly plunge 100 dollars? Best to leave it alone and accept that I bought the best ticket possible at the time.
Wednesday’s episode actually carried over from Monday, when I did a routine, don’t-expect-to-find-anything search on New York to Minneapolis flights. I’ll search the travel sites and then buy from the airlines. A price popped up. $148. I actually clicked refresh thinking something had gone wrong, perhaps I’d clicked one-way instead of round trip. The $148 remained. American Airlines, nonstop, leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday. This was about $75 cheaper than the best deals I used to find years ago and about a $100-150 than what I usually take. In a matter of minutes I’d checked to see if I could take some time off in May, asked Louise if she was free on the dates I’d found, did the same with my parents and bought the tickets before they disappeared forever and became nothing more than Internet lore.
Curious, I checked for Minneapolis to New York flights, something I’ve done off and on the past few weeks because my parents, two nephews and my niece are visiting us in the big city this summer. $148. That price again. American Airlines again. I didn’t react at first, afraid to shift away from that screen because it might be a mirage. It felt like Crazy Eddie had gained temporary control of American Airlines’ ticket counter and was sending out unauthorized prices, sitting at some desk in a locked office while his boss and a pair of security guards tried breaking in to put an end to the madness. With five people flying in the summer you never know what airline prices might do. I’d expect $,1400 to…what, $1,700 or more in ticket prices? Imagine getting them all for 148 each. Think how many more Shake Shack burgers my family could buy. How many more overpriced New York T-shirts could they cram into their bags with those savings?
I put a quick call into my mom but knew they hadn’t secured the dates. I worried the price wouldn’t be there in a day or two, or even an hour or two. Wednesday morning mom delivered the news: The price was gone. It’s one thing to lose out on a good price when it’s just one or two people flying. It’s another when it’s five.
And so began my quest. I even called American Airlines, hoping for…what? Credit to the recorded voice: It said it could be a 60-minute wait, so at least they don’t give you false hope. A half hour later I spoke with a nice representative and I found myself stuttering out some type of plea, explanation, request. Would that price appear again anytime soon? She didn’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Then I signed up for all the email alerts for that route, including one on Airfare Watchdog. I started following the site — which is headed by a veteran travel expert named George Hobica — on Twitter and discovered it will be a valuable resource. On Monday he actually tweeted the 148 rate. I exchanged some emails with George (and American, but, as I said, they had more important things to do). He was very helpful.
But he also delivered some heartbreaking news. A law from 2012 requires airlines to give customers the right to put a 24-hour hold on a fare. So we could have locked in that price on Monday while we figured out exact dates for the New York trip. It’s great information to know, although now it just sort of taunts me. It was almost better being oblivious.
So now I wait. We still have a lot of time before the trip so there’s no rush. I’ll watch the alerts and follow the Watchdog on Twitter. I’ll look for American or Delta, maybe Sun Country or Southwest. It’s out of my hands. But I want those tickets back in my grasp.