Europe is "going to be very full this summer, so I would not hesitate," said Nick Thomas, president of the North American office of STA Travel, which specializes in student travel services. "The fares are not going to get cheaper, and the places are going to be full, and I'd get busy."
Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity — and an aggregator such as SideStep or Mobissimo to see whether nonstudent fares are cheaper.
"Smart students would shop around," said Bart Littlefield, senior vice president of Student Universe. "We get an everyday low price that we use every day of the year, but there will be times when Southwest decides to sell every seat for $39."
Although prices for student airfares may not appear to be deeply discounted, they differ from those available to the rest of the traveling public in important ways. Students can often stay up to one year — many regular round-trip tickets are limited to 30 days — and refund and change fees are less severe.
"I would spend a bit of time trying to compare apples with apples," Thomas said. "We put a lot of effort into providing flexibility. Make sure you're digging deep and understanding the rules associated with the ticket."
Other advantages to student airfares include minimal advance-purchase requirements and the ability to buy one-way tickets for half the price of a round-trip ticket. "If you don't know when you're coming back or where you're coming back from, you can buy it when you know," Littlefield said.
With Student Universe, that means finding an Internet cafe and booking your return flight online. With STA Travel, you can make your arrangements online or at one of its nearly 500 storefront travel agencies around the world, even if you didn't purchase your ticket online. Most STA offices are on college campuses, but many are centrally located in large European cities, Thomas said.
Another place to find student deals online: Smarter Travel (www.smartertravel.com). Although students can't book tickets on the site, it has a section on student deals, hints and tips.
They can also sign up for a free monthly newsletter with about 80,000 subscribers. The newsletter includes travel promotions, some specifically for students and some just student-friendly, as well as student columnists and tips, said Molly Feltner, an associate editor who specializes in student travel at Smarter Travel.
"Shop around," she said. "And make sure they have taxes and fees calculated in, because you can really get in trouble."
Student Universe does not include taxes and fees in its first quote, one of my pet peeves when shopping online. At Orbitz and STA Travel, two other sites I researched for this column, taxes are calculated into the first quote, thus making their fares appear much higher than at Student Universe. For the European flights I checked, taxes added nearly $200 to the fares.
"We are working on it," said Student Universe's Littlefield, who added that once the fare was put in a shopping cart, the taxes and fees were calculated — well before a credit card was charged.
Contact James Gilden at http://www.theinternettraveler.com .