Airlines can’t seem to make a clear market assessment of what will happen in the coming months and airfares are everywhere, from cheap to expensive, both for cash tickets and rewards.
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To note: Broad, quantifiable data regarding flight prices and load factors will only become available in the months following the segments flown and is generally not forward-looking. Observations are based on my research and what I am able to find at this time, but airlines can always lower or raise their prices later. TL;DR – it’s not empirical data, it’s a slice of time; your experience may vary.
Some flights are very expensive
Some markets are simply outrageously expensive. A contact shared their experience buying United prices by coach to Quito and found $2,200-$4,000 round trips compared to American’s $641 – still expensive for the route.
International business class has a few nice spots (ignoring the one-stop recliner first class service on Icelandair), but even off-week business class fares the second week of December with nonstop fares of $3,200 and up with many destinations above $4,000 – this was one of the best times to fly over the pond.
CNBC reported that holiday flights will be the most expensive they’ve ever been. I looked up a few base city pairs and found this to be generally true. Holiday rates are always expensive, but this year they are undoubtedly higher. From New York (all airports) to LAX on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, returning this Sunday is $499 round-trip on Spirit ($456 with a stop in Detroit), JetBlue only slightly higher at $528. The cheapest after these two is United at $702, Alaska lists $822 for a Newark departure, Delta sells for $868 and American joins the party at $937.
New York to Fort Lauderdale is available on a single flight for $351, but the rest of the market is in the mid-$400s on just about every carrier that makes the three-hour trip.
Holiday flights are always expensive, but is a 22-26% surcharge really that important? Not necessarily.
Airlines offer fall discounts
Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airlines have made it easier to find cheap plane tickets in the fall. Frontier has launched a $19/one-way fare, IcelandAir has a transatlantic sale underway with flights starting at $399. Outside of discounters, network carriers have returned to pre-pandemic flight prices for low leisure travel periods. From Washington DC, flights to Dublin and Lisbon cost less than $410. Business class fares are also returning to more reasonable levels, running around $2,000.
Domestically, near-constant flights from New York to Florida sell for reasonable amounts in the winter between $170 and $210 round-trip, a far cry from pre-pandemic levels where round-trips of $60-80 were available from ULCCs, but still a comfortable price point for most.
What do the tea leaves say?
It is difficult to determine where the tokens will fall, but the airfare price float will soon land and take hold where the market allows. The theme seems to be uncertainty with reserved optimism. It’s no secret that business travel hasn’t fully returned, but leisure travelers have filled in some of the gaps. It seems to me that the airlines don’t know how full the flights will be when there will be almost no leisure travelers in the market.
My gut feeling is that as flights depart with more unsold seats than last year, there will be market price tests with bargains from mid-January. The spring break travel bumps will stretch further than in the past as bleisure travel adjusts the landscape and provides travelers with flexibility.
Ultimately, I’m convinced that airlines will have to cut their schedules, as business travelers who demand (and vote with their money) based on the schedule fail to buy tickets and the need to cut of frequency.
I also think there will be unique mileage redemption opportunities over the same period, then mid-April through the summer.
Plane tickets are everywhere these days. Some markets are expensive, some times are expensive, and some are cheap. I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen the same bottom of the market with flights for tens of dollars as frequent and expansive as in the past, but I have no doubt it will return.
What do you think? What do you find?
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