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How Businesses should book airline tickets on the Internet

By guest writer Bob Cowen


As a business traveler, saving money is important to you, but so too is quickly and accurately finding the flights that best meet your travel needs.  Here's how.

For more information and updates, visit Bob's website and join his free newsletter.

Part 1 of a 3 part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three



In today’s self-service world, the keys to significant travel savings are knowing where and how to shop.

Web sites that began life catering to the leisure traveler (the airlines, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity) now promote “one stop shopping” for small businesses. Their allure is ease of shopping, policy adherence, and reporting.

But are these benefits real? What about pricing, the convenience of the flights offered, the location of the hotels, and – perhaps most of all, the value of your time spent on their web site?

Leisure and Business Travel Booking Differences

Leisure travelers usually consider price the primary decision factor in choosing how they book and buy their travel. Trade-offs may involve travel at almost any time of the day and making significant changes in their preferred travel dates or routing. Most of the major travel web sites are fine for leisure travel if you are flexible in your travel plans and have plenty of time to spend searching.

Unlike leisure travelers, business travelers typically have both time-of-day and total travel duration constraints. To quickly determine your ideal flights yet keep an eye open for the elusive bargain can be an almost Herculean task on many websites. Inputting any flexibility into the most popular air travel web sites can result in an overload of flight suggestions. Sifting through the choices returned to you can consume a huge amount of your valuable time. Preferences for specific airlines or connection cities can further compound the challenge and lengthen the task. The frustration factor can quickly hit “high” and result in paying too much money after taking too much time. A double loss.

Quick and Easy Saving Opportunities

Are there any quick and easy ways for business travelers to save?

With the exception of a few dollars that can usually be saved by buying directly on an airline’s web site, most travel sites display identical flights and nearly identical prices for US domestic business air travel.

However, significant savings may be available by examining the trade-off of travel duration versus money. Key to your company saving money is how easily and quickly this trade-off can be viewed.

Two typical examples of the questions business travelers must ask themselves are :

Is it worth your time and the company’s money if you….

  • depart on Tuesday evening for your meeting on Wednesday?

  • take two more hours to get to your destination?

The challenge is to find the answers with the fewest mouse clicks and highest degree of certainty. The answers may not mean taking the lowest price!

Education is the key to savings. By using the right web sites, many business (and leisure) travelers can quickly and easily save 20% to 40% on travel costs.

That's not all.  And of course these days there are many more dimensions to booking and paying for a ticket than just simply what site you book the ticket on - there are all sorts of additional benefits and bonuses you can get when using various different affiliated credit cards.

 Shoppers who are involved with a purchase usually keep a sharper eye on the bottom line and are best at answering the above questions. However, the trap of spending too much time shopping must be avoided. What is the point of spending 30 minutes on a web site to save $20?

Which web sites are best? How much money can be saved and how much time will be taken? Below, you’ll see the best sites so you can determine the effort required and compare the savings and convenience of better information.

The Best Web Sites for You

For flights within the continental US: the best sites for business travelers with even a minor degree of flexibility in travel dates, times or airports are ITASoftware and SideStep.  They should be used together.

ITASoftware is an airfare only site that does not sell tickets but contains seat inventory as current as that of Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity. SideStep is a program that is downloaded to your PC. When you make an inquiry into ITASoftware or any other travel site, SideStep searches other sites for you (Southwest is the best example) so no additional effort is required to use SideStep.  ITASoftware does not find “web-only” fares but Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity impose ticketing fees.

Why ITASoftware is Best

Why is ITASoftware best? It is best at quickly and easily displaying the trade off between time (non-stop, one stop) and money via its matrix of results. The matrix is the best way to quickly convey the information. Other sites demand too much time to determine the best flights (fastest vs. cheapest). If a one-stop flight from Denver to Memphis, adding two extra hours of total travel time, will save only $20 over a non-stop, it’s not worth the extra time. However if it saves $400, it should be seriously considered. The ITA results matrix is the key to quickly observing the potential savings.

ITASoftware is also best at showing potential savings by flying to/from nearby cities (up to 300 miles from your specified departure and arrival cities). While nearby cities are often an excellent way to save, total travel time may significantly increase. How much is your time worth? A flight to San Jose or Oakland rather than San Francisco might mean a 45-minute longer drive to your destination. Departing from Grand Rapids could mean a 30-minute longer drive than departing from Lansing. A flight to La Guardia might be a lot less expensive than flying to White Plains and may be practical if not driving during rush hour. If headed to south Florida, either Miami or Ft. Lauderdale may be acceptable depending upon the price.

ITASoftware quickly, easily and reliably displays the nearby city options via an “airports” tab. While Orbitz shows near-by cities, it is limited to a radius of 70 miles and does not have an “airports” tab. Expedia and Travelocity do not come close in this area that holds large savings potential. ITASoftware options also provide the ability to select individual segments of your trip rather than the pre-packed round trips. ITASoftware also volunteers excellent warnings that business travelers appreciate (prop plane, long layover, etc.).

Do not confuse shopping with buying. For most flights within the U.S., it is recommended that you purchase directly on the airline’s web site, and only after you have first shopped for the best fares and flights at ITASoftware and SideStep. Buying directly eliminates any intermediary confusion and avoids ticketing fees and charges. The exception to this rule is when combining non-partner airlines (split tickets).


ITASoftware has the most helpful presentation of information about flight choices, enabling you to most quickly, conveniently, and accurately drill down to the best flights for your travel needs.

Sidestep 'fills out' any extra airfare options that might have been missed by the ITASoftware engine.

Generally, after having identified the best airfare through these two sites, you should then book the fare directly with the airline rather than through an intermediary website.

Read more in Parts 2 & 3

In Part 2 we look at the best way to book hotels online.

In Part 3 we look at the best way to book rental cars online.

Related Articles, etc

Originally published 13 Feb 2004, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this copyrighted article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to Bob Cowen as original writer.

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