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Who’s Got the Lowest Price?

The Emperor Franz Joseph famously complained that Mozart’s music has “too many notes.” My version of that, probably as lazy and ill-informed as his, says there are too many choices online for buying air tickets.

Some might think that’s a strange comment from the author of Travel The Net, the very first nationally syndicated newspaper column and magazine column about using the internet to plan travel.

Back then, in 1996, there were so few sources of information about this new realm called “online” that it was possible to write a useful and informative weekly article on the subject. But the whirlwind of web sites devoted to travel and the emergence of search engines soon made the concept of the column redundant and a waste of everyone’s time, including my own.

The phrase “blizzard of useless information” comes to mind. It was if I was trying to define that snowstorm by identifying and categorizing every individual flake.

Now, like everyone else, I’m wandering around hipdeep and snowblind and clueless as to where to get the best deal.

I know enough to avoid the nonsense that is Priceline, with their “pig in a poke” gimmick, whose fine print cautions that you not try to buy anything at a price lower than an airline’s published lowest fare. Who needs them for that?

Nowadays I take a double-barreled approach.

First, I run my tentative itinerary through discount aggregator sites such as Kayak and SideStep. They spare me the trouble of plodding my way through Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, etc. and the latest direct deals of a few hundred airlines, by doing it for me and then displaying the comparative results in an easy to read layout.

Armed with a printout of the best deals they can find, I start talking with agents, especially those who appear to be consolidators who specialize in international tix. Some are the very same resources that Kayak and SideStep have already researched for me.

But here’s their limitation . . . despite the fact that they claim to check the widest variety of resources, they don’t think like a human . . . and (shocked, shocked) . . . they don’t think at all. They blindly report the most obvious routes and the best deals on those routes without regard for artful interpretation by a human. All the reported deals are based on some version of a route that involves that horrid 16/18 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean.

As a result, none of them report on the east-bound route, over the North Pole, across Scandanavia, Over Eastern Europe and through SouthEast Asia that are better for reasons that no computer will ever understand. The longest jumps going east are 10 hours. Each segment offers the potential of anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks of layover.

I finally settled on a deal from Airtreks.com. I’ll use Malaysia Air for the east-bound EWR / SYD. That route includes layovers in Stockholm and Kuala Lumpur. After the month in Australia I’ll leave SYD on Thai Airlines, take a layover in Bangkok, then on to Delhi.

From Delhi, I’ll use the overnight trains between there and Agra, then on to Varansai, ending up with yet another overnight train to Mumbai. After all, I’ll be sleeping anyway, so I may as well be sprangleing, too, right?

After a few days in Mumbai I’ll pick up a flight to London, do a layover there and then on to Newark. Total cost, including taxes and the usual fees, around US$2,900.

On paper (OK, on screen) the route to Sydney says it’s almost 31 hours in the air. The return route is similar. But it’s actually a more comfortable route than the 22/24 hours route that crosses the Pacific.

As my Grandma used to say, “the long way round is the best way home.” I haven’t the slightest idea how she defined that but my take on it is, by arranging the layovers, when possible, as rest and recuperation stops, the wear and tear on this old body are survivable.

It suits my own mantra, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”

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