Cheap airfare: mouse, lines, boarding passes, nuts

How do you get from here to there? The perennial question is made ever more desperate when school vacation needs to literally and figuratively fly away. There’s just one option. With a few hours and a little Internet savvy, students can reap some great discounts and end up with a cheap (or cheaper) airfare that will set them packing. This writer did extensive research trying to find the cheapest domestic airfares on dozens and dozens of Web sites. And although many promise discounted fares, the best prices were still the ones booked directly with the airline on their Web sites. My advice, though, is to continue to shop around; other Internet resources are provided for a little ongoing comparison-shopping.

Portland to Los Angeles $198 (Round-trip)

Portland to Orlando $198 (RT)

Southwest Airlines ( may cause you some anxiety at the gate with their first-come, first-serve boarding policy, but for consistently low prices and all-American destinations, they can’t be beat. Southwest’s Internet site is one of the most functional on the Web and even allows date adjustments on the pricing screen for price comparison, before you buy.

Cheapest days to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday

Mileage club: YES! Internet booking in the Rapid Rewards Club awards four completed round-trips with a free flight.

Advance purchase: For best fares, book 14 days (or more) in advance.

Last-minute discounts: Southwest’s Click-n-save Web page offers steep discounts for some last minute, under-booked flights.

Internet-only specials: Yes, and usually the cheapest tickets possible.

Vacation packages: Great vacation packages to Las Vegas.

Portland to Phoenix $198 (RT)

Portland to Las Vegas $178 (RT)

America West Airlines ( has a great Web site but not the cheapest fares. Unfortunately, for Portland students, AWA is based in Phoenix. This, inevitably, leads to a much longer journey. For example, a flight to Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, more than likely, will embark to Phoenix first and then on to your “real” destination. It might not sound annoying, but think of looking out the airplane window and seeing Las Vegas, knowing you are going to turn around and fly right back to it after a change of planes at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Parachutes, anyone?

Cheapest days to fly: Weekdays and Sundays.

Mileage club: Yes. Accumulation of miles with the Flight Fund (also can accumulate with associated credit cards from Bank of America).

Advance purchase: For the best fares, at least 14 days in advance.

Last-minute discounts: Many random assortments of flights. You can also sign up for a weekly e-mail listing.

Internet-only specials: Web site indicates yes, but airfare was not that much of a savings over normal airfare and best fares were only from Phoenix.

Vacation packages: America West vacation packages were of exceptional value but were restrictive on the flight times. A package to Las Vegas required you to fly out of Phoenix at 11:59 p.m. and return two days later at 11:59 p.m. A blessing for the late night gambler, traumatic for everybody else.

Portland to Alaska $440 (RT)

Alaska Airlines ( is a regional carrier and, often, will offer discounted Internet airfares for truly last-minute travel plans. For example, a trip to Oakland may be possible at only $80 round-trip, but you must leave this afternoon and return on Sunday evening. Hey, it could be fun, and it gives new meaning to last-minute travel plans.

Cheapest days to fly: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

Mileage club: Miles accumulation, and they enticingly promise 15,000 miles accrued with only one round-trip. This, however, involves Internet-only purchase, signing up for their credit card, checking in at the airport on their new electronic kiosks and tattooing ALASKA AIR across your ass.

Advance purchase: At least 14 days in advance (except for dvery last-minute deals (see above).

Last-minute discounts: Can you say, “last minute” (as in two minutes from now your plane is taxiing down the runway)?

Internet-only specials: Yes, and they will e-mail them to you if you subscribe.

Special packages: Great ski vacations.

Internet search tips:

-Purchase as far in advance as possible (tickets are already selling out at discounted prices for the holidays).

-Sign up for e-mail lists of last-minute deals.

-Know you airline codes (speeds up the searching process). Portland = PDX.

-Remain flexible and be willing to leave one day earlier, or later. You can often save $100 or more.

-Go to the source, but still compare prices with major Internet ticket agencies (you are just as likely to get a good deal on domestic airfare directly from the airline).

-Booking over the Internet will save you a few dollars over the phoned-in reservation.

-Mark as “Favorite” (on your browser) the major airlines and continually check for updated sales and last-minute Web-only discounts.