Cheat sheet for holiday airfare deals
Despite headlines to the contrary, savvy shoppers can still find bargains, experts say.
Average airfares have been rising lately, but that doesn't mean would-be fliers should rush to lock in their tickets whatever the price.Skip to next paragraph
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That's the advice of travel experts as another holiday flying season ramps up.
Yes, it's time to jump at a good price, especially if your trip is a must-do and is timed right around a holiday. But fare trackers say airlines are still waging price battles to get customers on board.
"I really advise people to not give up hope. Check every day because fares really do fluctuate," says George Hobica, who heads airfarewatchdog.com. Some fares may keep rising, but he also says fewer Americans are expected to travel this holiday season and "a lot of them are going to be going in their cars."
The evidence of upward pressure on ticket prices is hard to miss. "Act fast" and "Fares rising" are the urgent headlines accompanying price quotes on the travel section of the website Bing.com. Fares rose 8 percent in the three-month period starting in July, according to the US consumer price index.
What's pushing prices up? Partly it's improvement in the economy – and a related uptick in fuel prices. Airlines have also cut routes to keep planes fuller. The industry's so-far-elusive quest for profits includes not just rising fares but also fees on everything from checked bags to beverages.
But demand for air travel, which fell sharply during the recession, remains far below levels seen prior to 2001. Airlines still face fierce competition for price-sensitive consumers. That's why experts caution against assuming that fare jumps are here to stay, or that bargains will cease.
"This year has been one wild and crazy year," says Tom Parsons, chief executive of travel website BestFares.com. Aside from the weeks that include Christmas and New Year's Day, "there are still a lot of days the airlines are worried about.... They're going to have to do something to keep those planes full."
The recent jump in fares is more modest than the steep plunge in their cost last year, as the recession deepened and a spike in oil prices ended. Average fares in September were still down by more than 11 percent from a year earlier. Fares today aren't too different from prices in 2006 or the summer of 2000, price data show.
Here's the advice Mr. Parsons and others offer for holiday fliers:
•Tuesday is a key day to shop. Parsons says airlines often roll out their bargains that morning each week, with potential bargains expanding throughout the day as other carriers follow suit. The deals can last for a couple of days after that.