With the European Union announcement that fully vaccinated travelers should be able to fly to Europe at some point this summer, sufficiently jabbed baby boomers can take advantage of some truly exceptional airfares currently being offered to the Continent.
There are also some lower-than-low airfares to Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and within the U.S. Some are almost mind-boggling.
But you have to know where to look — and just as important, when to look.
That’s where the website ThriftyTraveler.com comes in.
By subscribing to its Premium service ($59.99 a year) you’ll get email notifications of hot economy-class airfare deals around the globe within minutes from the time they appear — which is good, because some of these deals disappear within a matter of hours. Thrifty Traveler considers a fare worth writing about if it’s $250 or more off it’s typical price — but many offer far higher savings.
For example, recent fares to Europe included Finnair round trip flights to Oslo and Warsaw for under $300 from New York (JFK) — with flights extending from October 2021 to March 2022 (though those fares may well be gone by now).
They also have recently added a Premium+ service ($129.99 a year), whose members receive first and business class fares and deals as well. These are bookable with airline miles and credit card points.
Check Google Flights, then your airline
You don’t book through the Thrifty Traveler site — instead, with a click you’re directed to Google Flights, where you can select your desired itinerary. (See Thrifty Traveler’s master guide to Google Flights for all you need to know about using that service.)
It’s then advisable to book directly with your airline, since you’ll have 24 hours to cancel if you decide to do so, and, in general, have fewer problems than if booking through a third party site.
Thrifty Traveler co-founder Nick Serati told me that baby boomers “are fueling the surge” in subscribers to his site. “We’ve seen big numbers since around March 1,” he said, ascribing it to pent-up travel demand after a year spent mostly staying home. And some of the eye-popping fares that are showing up are bound to add to that surge.
He suggested I try out Thrifty Travel Premium for a few weeks, and I have — and have been impressed. Here’s why:
Roundtrip to Tokyo for $200?
In recent days, Thrifty Traveler has featured round trips to Tokyo on United and American Airlines in the range of $200.
The bargain-basement fares are from both major airports like Newark, Chicago, and San Francisco as well as seldom-seen (for this type of deal) departure airports such as Akron, Ohio; Billings, Montana; Fresno, California; Key West, Florida; and — I’m glad to say — Tucson, Arizona, where I live. Thrifty Traveler covers 120 airports in the U.S. — and another 40 in Canada.
The Tokyo fares are available through March 2022 (though I can’t guarantee they’ll still be good when this is published).
And another major caveat: Japan is currently closed to foreign visitors, which makes booking for next fall and winter highly advisable. (The fares are good during the Summer Olympics, but the number of foreigners allowed to attend hasn’t been determined.)
Thrifty Traveler offers key information that you’ll want to know before booking.
Take the Tokyo flights, for instance. On United, the fares are good for the main cabin, which means meals, seat selection, two checked bags, and a carry-on are included. You can also cancel and receive a voucher for a future flight up to what your paid for your fare.
On American, Thrifty Traveler advises, you get the meals and bag allowances but not the seat selection or the cancellation voucher — for those you have to upgrade to main cabin by ponying up an extra $80 per passenger. (Still a great deal, though.)
Thrifty Traveler also offers various tips on how to save money while traveling, with an emphasis on signing up for various travel rewards cards and, hence, piling up frequent flyer miles. I found this service helpful for deciding which card(s) I might want to apply for next, but in any event it doesn’t detract from the site’s low-fare emphasis.
Business Class and Mistake Fares, Too
If you opt for the Premium+ service, you can find great deals on business and first class fares as well.
Arriving in my inbox today was info about a business class fare from TAP Air Portugal roundtrip from the U.S. to Europe for just $975-$980, compared to the usual $2,250. TAP business class allows you to recline your seat and lie flat on your flight to Europe — a huge incentive for baby boomers.
This fare is (or perhaps was) good from May to September of this year, and Thrifty Traveler recommends booking for the latter months (August-September) to be on the safer side of any restrictions.
Departure cities include Boston, Chicago, Miami, Newark, and Washington, DC. and destinations include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Madrid, Milan, Naples, Oslo, Paris, and Rome, with some variation based on dates and cities of departure.
The site also identifies occasional “mistake” fares, which are just that — mistakes made by the airlines in which they publish unbelievably low fares because someone accidentally typed in “$100” when they should have typed in “$1,000,” or the like.
These fares — such as a normally $12,500 first-class fare to Asia being offered for $975; or Atlanta to Santiago, Chile, for $62 — understandably only last for a few hours or minutes, until someone at the airline discovers them. And the airlines aren’t obligated to recognize the fares, though sometimes they do. Thrifty Traveler makes it possible for you to capitalize on the airline’s error by sending out immediate alerts — by text if you prefer.
Most fares shown on the site are for deals lasting several months or more, which allow you to plan your trip at your own pace, once airfare is secured. If you wish, you can see deals from airports across the country — or choose to get alerts from just one or two airports near you.
Keep in mind, though, that all low fares — not just mistake fares — may be booked by other travelers within the course of a few hours or days. So you may find yourself making some impulse bookings to beat the crowds — which makes it especially important in these uncertain times to pay attention to timing and airline cancellation policies.
Whether you choose Thrifty Traveler’s Premium or Premium+ service, it’s not hyperbole to say you’d gain that back your annual cost in just one booking. If you’re hoping to fly in the next few months, I’d recommend trying it for at least a month, and you’ll probably be hooked.
Or you can get cheap flight alerts for free if you wish — you’ll only get a small portion of the deals and won’t be able to select departure city filters, but you’ll be able to try it out at no cost.
Special for readers of clarknorton.com: enter the promo code CLARK10 for $10 off your first year of Thrifty Traveler Premium!
Additional Note: Remember to get vaccinated if you want to travel to the EU and many other destinations this year.