Q: We have been looking at fares to both Australia and Europe on United for May, June and July. We have noticed that many of the long-haul flights have one-third to one-half of the coach seats already booked and no cheap fares are available. Is United playing a game or has someone purchased all of the cheaper, overseas seats already?
A: What you've found could be explained by a number of reasons. Perhaps other airlines have bought seats on United in a code-share agreement, or perhaps business has indeed picked up and more seats have been sold. Another explanation: Airlines have eliminated flights from their schedules, mothballed unwanted planes in the desert, and are using smaller planes (767s instead of 747s for example) on some routes, in a bid to drive prices up and fill seats. And fares to Europe do indeed appear to have firmed up. Usually around this time of year, dead of winter fares to Europe are much lower than what we're seeing currently. There will probably be spot, unadvertised sales here and there, but we wouldn't be surprised if international fares, on average, remain higher than last year.
Q: We are recent retirees we are planning our dream trip so don't want to mess it up. We want to travel from Tampa to Sydney, Australia in mid September of this year for 6 weeks. During the trip we are considering a 13-day cruise to New Zealand and the remaining four weeks traveling around Australia.
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First, in your opinion, since it is months away, should we wait to book the flight, and or cruise, hoping for a better price or set both up now to secure them?
Second, the most economical flights are currently similar in price on both American Airlines and Qantas. Do you know if either airline has an edge as far as comfort or service since it is such a long flight?
A: You might consider breaking your trip up in Los Angeles or San Francisco for a couple of days rather than flying straight through. You might even find it's cheaper to buy one fare, say, on Southwest from Tampa to the West Coast and then onward. Be sure to look at fares directly on Qantas.com for the flights to Australia, as they sometimes sell seats for less than you'll find on third-party sites, and sign up for their e-mailed newsletters. There are frequent fare wars on the routes from California to Australia, so sign up for Airfarewatchdog or other fare alerts and jump when fares go down. I'd say that Qantas probably has the edge on service, so I'd fly with them. In order to get the best cabin location, I'd probably shop around and book the cruise portion earlier rather than later. Take a look at cruisecritic.com for some tips.