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The Best Fares

En RouteThe Best Fares

Shopping for airline tickets to Greece is nothing like shopping for, say, a major appliance (though the price of roundtrip fares, for two, to Greece and its islands may approach that of a major appliance). There are lots and lots of variables to consider and, if you haven’t done this sort of thing before, or recently, or on your own, you need to be cautious.

Enormous Santorinian sky

I don’t, however, think that you’ll need a travel agent. It’s my realistic belief that this is one area of commerce where the fewer the middlemen, the better, and the cheaper.

Up until about a decade ago, “consolidator tickets,” or blocks of seats bought up by bulk seat buyers, and offered by certain travel agents (especially to clients savvy enough to ask for them) were the cheapest way to travel trans-atlantically. Also, back then, the earlier you bought your tickets, the cheaper they were likely to be.

For years, I had a wonderful travel agent in Clemson, South Carolina, and I used her services no matter where I happened to find myself. Sabina knew I was a great pincher of pennies and drachmas (now Euros), and she would do her level best to beat any fare I had come up with on my own using the airlines’ 800-numbers or the internet. But the day finally came, about ten years ago, when the prices and itineraries I found on my own beat anything Sabina could do for me.

A little jet-lagged but on the beach

Even quite recently, of course, e-tickets, or electronically issued tickets, and/or tickets bought via an 800 number, or the internet, and mailed to you prior to your departure, were a somewhat iffy proposition. Would they arrive in time? Would all the details be correct? Was the person at the other end of that line trustworthy? Had you read the finest of the fine print?

Now, however, things have changed, primarily due to the volume of internet airline ticket sales. Intense competition has made shopping online for tickets the best possible method for finding what you want at a price you can pay. Here’s the way I do it, and the course I advise you to take.

First, if you can write in some flexibility regarding your departure and arrival home dates, all the better. Get out your calendar, and decide approximately when you want to leave and return. It may make all the difference in the world, in price and availability, whether you head out mid-week or on a weekend, or at the end of one month rather than at the beginning of the next. The trouble is, because the online sites for cheap fares are run by computers, they can only act on what you tell them. So, you may have to spend several hours on your computer, comparison-shopping and trying out one date after another. It will be worth it.

After you’ve got your dates, you have to decide upon your departure and arrival airports; which air carriers you prefer; and whether or not you want a direct flight, such as those offered by Olympic Airways, or would rather change planes, and stretch your legs, in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or some other European hub en route to Greece.

Since I myself always opt to fly with a major European airline, stopping in London or Amsterdam for several hours en route, I’ve already ruled out some of the variables by the time I sit down at my keyboard. With my calendar before me, then, I access the following sites and perhaps a few others:

View towards Oia Santorini

www.AirGorilla.com

www.airlineconsolidator.com

www.cheapairlinetickets.com

www.cheapairplaneticketsearch.com

www.cheaptickets.com

www.expedia.com

www.faremax.com

www.orbitz.com

www.priceline.com

www.travelocity.com

To give you some idea of the range of roundtrip fares I found for an August 29 departure date, out of New York City into Athens, with an October 6 return, Faremax came in lowest, at $673.80, and AirGorilla came in highest, at $847.93. But that was for flights on two particular dates, investigated one June evening in 2003. The next afternoon, everything might have changed. The next month, in fact, I went online again, and found much lower fares. Grrrrrr! In the summer of 2009, I found the lowest fares had gone up by $100., and there were no reasonable direct flights in September and October. Note, please: some www’s post fares without tallying in taxes and fees. It will say so in the small print, but look for it. These extras can make a big difference in the final price.

But now here’s my “Major Airfare Trade Secret”: once I find a low, low online fare, with KLM, the Dutch carrier, say, and one of my favorite airlines, I then call KLM’s 800-number to see if they’ll match or beat it. I’ve never been disappointed, and I much prefer reserving my tickets with a real, live KLM rep on the phone, to giving out all my personal data to a cheap-ticket site on the internet. This may seem like overkill, but it works for me.

Feet up in time for the sunset, Santorini

By the way, new cheap airfare sites spring up all the time. Go to www.google.com and type in “cheap airline fares,” and you’ll get a whole gamut of sites, pronto.

Some additional pointers: if you’re changing planes in a European hub city, allow plenty of time to find your gate, allow staff to move your in-hold baggage to the new plane, arrange for seating assignments, and get some exercise in the airport. (I used to hop on Olympic for a stop-less long haul from New York to Athens till I got phlebitis on such a flight in the mid-1980s. Since then, I’ve been a fanatic about breaking my journey and walking up and down the aisles while airborne.)

I also advise travelers to Greece to see Athens on their way back from the islands rather than before heading out. I myself usually book my flight on from the Athens airport to Mykonos or

Santorini direct, and bypass Athens altogether on my way into the country. Your KLM or Delta or British Air representative, right there at the end of the 800-line, can book your flights with either Olympic or Aegean, Greece’s domestic air carriers, so you don’t even leave the Athens airport before heading on to your island destination. Then, after a couple of weeks—or months—of sea and sun, you can either fly back into Athens to see the museums and monuments, or take a catamaran or hydrofoil to Piraeus, Athens’s port city, and then a cab into the capital.

Athens’s hubbub, which I love, is really best experienced at the end of your Greek journey, not the beginning.

Athens street musician