According to the Department of Transportation, the average price for domestic flights dropped to $372 (6.82%) in the third quarter of 2015 from 2014. This marks the cheapest fares since 2010. But inflated fares in recent years and the loss of traditional airline perks means that these price drops might not translate to increased value for travelers.
Low Gas Prices, Increased Competition Good for Travelers
Gas prices fluctuating is nothing new. Most of the time, you'll first recognize it at the pump when you're filling up your car. But when prices drop low enough, you start to see the savings elsewhere, like in cheaper groceries. In this case, the oil prices have dropped so much lately that it's cited as one of the prevailing reasons for more affordable flights.
And it's not just the price of oil affecting air travel. Smaller, low-cost airlines — think Spirit and Frontier — are beginning to expand, pushing the bigger name companies to lower their prices to compete.
How Much Are You Actually Saving?
But those lower fares come with a lot of catches. For one thing, the prices haven't just outright plummeted to record low levels. In late 2014 and early 2015, fares spiked, so the recent drop is relative, and saves an average of only $24 per fare.
And then, increased fees could eat away at those savings. Checked bags, preferred seating, and priority boarding could all incur additional fees, especially if you chosen a budget fare or operator. And that doesn't even take into account that you might want an exorbitantly priced airport snack or to log on to their wi-fi while awaiting your flight. All of these add up quickly, and likely zoom right past that $24 "savings" you thought you had.
Also, just because you're seeing cheaper fares for some flights doesn't necessarily mean it's a wide-reaching change. Airlines are known for dropping prices for certain flights in order to maximize the amount of passengers on board; so the most popular routes might not get these discounts.
Regardless of the current price of flights, the best thing you can do when booking a trip is to make sure to do your research by comparing airfare deals, and plan ahead so that you can avoid hidden fees.
This article first appeared at DealNews.