Travel on an experimental budget

Two friends asked me if I would be coming back this year to the Donaueschinger Musiktage. I looked at the program, and realized that I couldn’t miss it. The offerings are rich and diverse, and some of the programmed composers (Aperghis, Pauset, Johnston) are hugely interesting to me already, in addition to those that I might discover when I’m there. And knowing that I’ll have the chance to see some great people I met last year seals the deal.

These days I only have an irregular job, so money is tight. But there are at least two advantages. There is no problem getting away for a bit, and I had time to research the cheapest flights.

Anyone who has been to Donaueschingen knows very well that there is no airport in the area. German rail tickets are only 29 euros between most destinations if you buy them far enough in advance, so I decided to visit some friends in Munich for a few days on the front end of the trip. I’ve had a great invitation to Freiburg after the festival. Then I found out that trains go directly to the Frankfurt airport, so that makes it a cheaper and easier trip for the return flight.

For the flight search, I had been using Sidestep, which is the most comprehensive search engine for all the standards–Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire, OneTravel, the airlines, etc. The cheapest flight I could find on Sidestep was $730. That felt like a strain. Then I found cFares. For the same places and cities, I found a flight for $634. I could have gotten that right away, but they also offered a $45 rebate on the ticket if I purchased a one-year $50 platinum membership. That $5 difference is a small price to pay for equivalent rebates for the next twelve months. They have a great interface, and the search took me straight to the booking at this site. When I tried running that same search at lessno, though, I wasn’t given the option of a multi-city trip. So cFares was really the only place I could have found that combination.

Another very useful site is Farecast, which will tell you whether to buy now or to wait, based on their assessment of the price trends for that particular combination of cities. I’m eying another trip, but I’ve been informed with 72% confidence that prices are dropping or steady. Farecast is also a good search engine, and occasionally locates prices that are lower than Sidestep’s. But for this particular flight, cFares comes in $42 lower with my new platinum member rebate, and still slightly cheaper ($3) without it. Hopefully Farecast is right and the price will drop further, but it already looks pretty good.

All of these sites are links on bookingbuddy.com, which works very well for everything except multi-city/open jaw trips. Just enter the cities and dates, and click on the tabs for Sidestep, cFares, and farecast. Sidestep includes most of the others, so there is no need to open all 17 windows. That would be a mess. But poke around and see what works best for you. You’re likely to save at least $100 off a standard search with a few extra minutes’ effort.

While I’m on the subject, flycheapo.com was an invaluable resource last year when I was traveling from city to city in Europe. Flights frequently have base prices of a single pound or euro, and are very often cheaper than train fare. Flycheapo tells you what budget airlines fly any route you look up. There are so many airlines it’s impossible to keep track of them all. I used Germanwings, Air Berlin, Ryanair, and EasyJet, and they all worked out just fine for me. Just make sure you don’t book your flights at such an early hour that you can’t take public transportation to the airport. I speak from experience. My taxi to the nearest bus to London Stansted cost far more than the flight to Stuttgart.

Wegolo is a similar search engine that pulls up prices for budget airline flights worldwide. I don’t have much experience with it, but it looks promising. It’s especially useful since many of these airlines do not appear on regular search engines.

There we are. That’s my longest post to date. But it is important. We are a global community. When we hear each other’s work, meet, and collaborate, that community is strengthened. Sometimes it’s a financial and logistical ordeal, but these efforts are rewarded in spades.


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