Airfare Satisficing

I hate buying airline tickets. It's not really difficult to buy a ticket, but it's almost impossible to buy the best ticket. I always have the nagging feeling that I'm paying way too much. Airfares are based on byzantine sets of rules that fluctuate over time. If you watch them long enough, you can find the best price, but I want to spend minutes buying an airline ticket, not days. What I really need is a better perspective. Something that can log airfares over time and allow me to see trends and easily compare options at a glance. This week I decided to solve the problem. I got as far as deciphering Expedia's URL variables before I remembered the Lazyweb.

Matt Jones coined the Lazyweb principle back in 2002. Basically, if you wait long enough, someone will write/build/design what you were thinking about. Turns out, I didn't have to wait long at all. Today I found a Wired News article about two different sites that are doing exactly what I need. Farecast is pretty impressive. It provides a 75 day history of a particular fare, ala sparklines, along with a prediction about whether the fare is expected to rise or fall in the coming week. Flyspy hasn't really embraced the whole Web 2.0 aesthethic, but it's still a respectable little app. In particular, it automatically compares flights to alternate airports and allows you to easily adjust your travel window to see how it affects the price.

Both sites are still in beta (alpha?) and only scan a limited number of carriers and cities. Still, they show potential; once they launch Expedia and Travelocity will have some catching up to do.

Mark Schraad
The airline industry is its own worst enemy. Most of the companies are to big to manage... and they are backwards facing (not user/customer centric). You right Jeff, they intentionally make it a giant cluster*.

The motel industry is similar. They sell rooms at volume discount or high individual rate until they reach optimal profitability... then discoutn to fill. It seems backwards, but it makes great business sense if you understand the principle of marginal profit.
Jeff Howard
As I waited to board the plane on my most recent trip, I realized that an excellent service for the airlines would be to sell bottled water right at the gate. Or maybe an exchange; you toss your recently purchased bottle into the trash and they hand you a "clean" bottle as you board. Enterprise had free bottles of water on the van that picked me up from the airport, and I thought it was an excellent touch.

Also, Farecast has added a bunch of new cities to their interface (including SFO). Now I can actually use it as a planning tool!

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