Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Footloose and fancy-free

In days long ago, when we were footloose and fancy-free, we would all travel at the drop of a hat. Come the weekend or a holiday break, we would get in the car and drive somewhere different. When the cost of air travel dropped, flying somewhere warmer for a weekend break was normal. Airline routes crossed the world. Nowhere was too far away. One of the first mass market discounts was the so-called stand-by ticket. Because airlines can be left with seats unsold on the day of flight, they would sell the tickets at a reduced price to anyone who happened to be there.

Some money collected on an empty seat was better than no money. When word of this system spread, the young with a few dollars in their pockets would go and queue at airports, taking whatever flights were on offer just for the fun. For a while, this was under control and not too disruptive. But, as with anything involving money, it soon fell victim to a scam.

People would buy full price open tickets for a particular route, nominating one date but able to change without penalty. On the day, they would queue early for a stand-by seat if they were in a good position in the queue, they would cancel their prebooked seats and, almost always, buy the seat at a discounted price. Later they would surrender the full-price tickets for cash. Because of this, stand-by tickets and the overbooking problems have disappeared.

So what are the foot loose to do today? The answer lies in number of online agencies that specialize in last-minute deals. There are two separate systems. One is left to the customer to react when time suddenly becomes available. The day's offers are continuously refreshed and, depending on what time you hit the site, you may find some good offers left for the same or next day. The other system operates on a "club" system. When you sign up for membership, you get regular newsletters and special offers. Sometimes, the sale of charter tickets on a particular package have not gone well and the operator wants to fill places at discounted prices. Sometimes, a big group change their booking leaving multiple seats to be filled at short notice. However the opportunities arise, they offer great value opportunities.

If you are adventurous and enjoy travel to different places, often with a resort hotel at the other end, this is the thing for you. The cheap airfare tickets get you there, the rooms have been block-booked so you get a good rate on those too. So long as you have your passport, any necessary immunizations are up-to-date and you have the money, the world is yours. In fact, during the winter months, pensioners often spend a little of their cash on deals just like this when the weather is coldest. But, young or old, rich or poor, if you shop around, you are bound to find cheap airfare tickets available.


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