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Student Airfare 101

by Cat George

I have a hobby that other travel-addicts may share: airfare browsing. After searching the Internet for cheap flights, I then daydream about purchasing them. I use search engines like Expedia and Travelocity, the websites for the airlines themselves, and student airfare agencies. Guess what? My ISIC card (or the IYTC card, for those under 26 who aren’t students) isn’t always the key to the cheapest flights. Other places, often the airlines themselves, will have better deals ($50-$100 less). But, when it comes to purchasing, not daydreaming, I’d still pick a student flight. Why?

No matter what, flights aren’t something you pay for with the spare change in your pocket. Students can’t turn the regular order of the world on its head: prices go up in the high season, no matter how young you are. It costs more to fly overseas than it will to fly domestically. You’re still going to put down a grand – at least – to make your way from North America to Australia.

But, ignoring the issue of price, student tickets are my choice because they’re flexible. Many other cheap flights are weighted down by restrictions. Book a student ticket and it’ll bend to accommodate your traveling whims. Tickets are often refundable, date and location changes are available for a minimal fee, you can purchase them at the last minute, and they have a longer validity period to accommodate those year-long working holidays. Whether it’s a Spring Break fling or a big backpacking trip, the ability to change your mind is sometimes worth a little extra cash.

On the other hand, if you’ve got rock-solid plans, don’t ignore other possibilities. Airlines have mid-week and last-minute sales. Space-available agents like Air Hitch* and Air Treks sometimes have extremely low fares if you’re willing to fly from anywhere in one region (say, East Coast USA) to anywhere in another (Western Europe). Research and persistence are the keys for cheap flights. Since students often visit Western Europe, Australia, Mexico, and the Caribbean, student agencies are more likely to have sales on tickets to those destinations.

Besides airfare, there are other reasons to use a student travel agency. Just as there are agencies that specialize in cruises or package tours for the retired, student travel agencies know budget trips. Want rail passes, a bus tour, or a hostel bed for the night? They’ll be able to help. Looking for volunteering or work abroad experiences? They’re experts there too. Even if you end up booking a last-minute web fare through someone else, don’t ignore the possibility of other student/youth discounts.

Some agencies that specialize in student and youth travel:
Student Universe
Travel Cuts

Of course, there are more out there. I’ve used Travel Cuts and STA and appreciated it when I needed to change a flight date from overseas. Give “student flights” a try in Google or check for your hometown here to find others. It pays to compare prices at more than one agency, since they may be working with different airlines and therefore have different deals available.

* Please note that Air Hitch has some serious critics, and has come up numerous times on the BootsnAll message boards as a troublesome company to deal with. Some BootsnAll members recommend trying AirTech instead – which is virtually the same kind of system, but much more professionally run. If you want to check out some of what past customers have to say about Air Hitch, just browse through the message boards on these threads:

original photo by Joris Machielse