June 24, 2008

When to Buy Tickets? There’s No Easy Answer

If you have been following the headlines, you've no doubt heard about increased airfares and fees.

You are probably wondering when would be a good time to purchase tickets. There isn't an easy answer. If you want to travel this fall or winter, you should start pricing fares now so you will have a better understanding of the market and will be prepared to buy if you see a deal. While tickets probably will cost more this year than last, prices should be reasonable if you buy during a sale.

Prices to a number of leisure markets probably will increase. Legacy carriers have announced cuts to destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando because they are losing money on these routes. Hawaii flights also have been cut back with the demise of ATA and Aloha. This, combined with an increase in fuel surcharges, has driven up fares to Hawaii.

Most airlines let you buy tickets 330 days or less in advance. If you buy tickets now for travel so soon, you probably will overpay since low-cost carriers often don't sell that far ahead. For example, Southwest usually sells tickets a maximum of 6 { to 7 months out. By the end of June, we should see the schedule extended for travel through the holidays.

When we recently priced Christmas and New Year's flights from Dallas to winter hot spots Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa, the cheapest flights were more than $1,000 round-trip. These holiday fares probably will drop after Southwest extends its schedule, but they still will cost more than travel during off-peak times.

The rising cost of penalties for changing a ticket leaves little incentive to lock in a ticket in advance when the fare is $500.

It used to be that if you bought a ticket for $400, and the fare later dropped to $298, you could pay a $25 change fee and get the remainder as credit toward a future flight. With change fees of $150 on many legacy carriers, there is little reason to purchase in advance unless you lock in an inexpensive fare.

Low-cost carriers have brought up their price points, but these increases pale in comparison with the legacy carriers. In many noncompetitive markets of more than 1,500 miles, fares are up by $360 on legacy airlines. You still can fly out of Dallas on sale fares for less than $300 to the East and West coasts.

Watch fares so you'll recognize a bargain.

Travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays usually is cheaper than on other days of the week, and Sundays usually are the most expensive.

Sales often are launched on a Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and it usually takes 24 hours for everyone to match them.

Also check for Web-only fares since these often are the least expensive.

If you are still looking for summer fares, wait for a sale from low-cost carriers. After Southwest sees its summer season dry up, it will entice us with sales for mid-August through early November, as will AirTran.


Tom Parsons is publisher of Bestfares.com: www.bestfares.com


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