Airfare deals for summer travel are harder to find this year
Surcharges, 'pent-up demand' helping drive prices above 2009 levels
If you plan to travel by plane for your summer vacation, you might want to buy your tickets today.
Tuesday afternoons are typically the best time to shop for and buy summer airfare, according to industry experts. Airfare sales are often announced Tuesday mornings.
But don't expect to get the same low fares that were around in 2009.
Depending on the route, airfares are up by 7 to 10 percent as several carriers have added "peak travel day" surcharges of $10 per flight. And at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, summer airfare sales are few and far between.
"There is a lot of pent-up demand," said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com. "People didn't take their one or two trips last year, and this year, they're going to take their trip."
2009 versus 2010
Travelocity, the Southlake-based online travel service, said the average domestic airfare this summer is around $360, up 9 percent from summer 2009. Airfares to international destinations are up 10 percent to an average of $806 compared with $730 in 2009.
"We're definitely seeing higher fares than last summer," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "The economy is better, business travelers are coming back and capacity has been cut."
For example, the average price of a flight to Europe was about $600 last summer but is about $1,000 this summer. Coast-to-coast flights in the U.S. could be found for as little as $69 one-way in 2009, but now consumers will be lucky if they find a $99 one-way fare.
Industry experts say airfares are still relatively low this year -- it's just that 2009 summer airfares were the lowest in a decade. But airfares this summer could increase if oil prices, currently around $85 a barrel, rise significantly.
"The airlines have already put in their peak travel charges for summer, but if oil prices crack $90, we might see $10 one-way surcharges," Seaney said.
Deals are there, but ...
Last summer, airlines' airfare sales were good for travel any day of the week throughout the peak travel months of June, July and August.
This year, airfare sales have been short and sweet.
AirTran Airways, Southwest Airlines and other low-cost carriers are still announcing airfare sales on Tuesday mornings, but they have typically run for only 48 to 72 hours and have limits on which days they are valid -- usually Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. And Dallas-based Southwest's airfare sales have applied only to travel before June 23.
"There are always going to be hit-and-run sales that are sporadic and short-lived," said Hobica, citing a recent Continental airfare sale that offered $400 airfares between Hawaii and its Houston hub.
Although most flights out of D/FW Airport are operated by Fort Worth-based American Airlines, it usually matches competitors' sales. However, AirTran is the only low-cost carrier that has offered substantial summer airfare sales out of D/FW this year.
"We still get deals in D/FW, but it's not anything like we're seeing in other parts of the country like Denver, Milwaukee and Philadelphia," said Tom Parsons, chief executive of Bestfares.com. "We're not getting our fair share, so to speak."
If you are not choosy about where you want to go this summer, experts say the East Coast and Los Angeles are your best bets for cheap airfare out of D/FW.
While most West Coast flights from D/FW cost about $400, American has offered nonstop flights to Los Angeles for as low as $218 round-trip, Parsons said.
Travelers will pay less to get to East Coast destinations even though they are the same distance from Texas as California is because low-cost carriers like AirTran and JetBlue are keeping airfares low.
Experts agree that to get a good deal on summer airfare, travelers have to be flexible on destination and willing to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday and on the first or last flight of the day.
"You need to be shopping two to three months in advance and buying no later than one mouth out," Seaney said.
ANDREA AHLES, 817-390-7631