Rising airfares are impacting leisure travel

08/22/2014 4:04 PM

08/25/2014 10:01 AM

Shawn Rogers wanted to take a beach vacation this summer and dip her toes into the ocean.

But when the Haltom City resident researched plane tickets for her family, the prices were beyond her budget.

“We had looked at flying into Pensacola but the airfare was way too much,” Rogers said.

Instead, the family chose to drive four-and-a-half hours to Galveston and spend a couple of days on the Texas side of the Gulf. By traveling by car, it cost Rogers only a few tanks of gas versus hundreds of dollars on airfare.

In the past five years, average airfares at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport have risen 13.8 percent to $415.66 by the end of 2013, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Airfares have jumped 27.4 percent since 2009 at Dallas Love Field to an average last year of $292.04. Adjusted for inflation, the increases are smaller, only 3.4 percent at DFW and 15.8 percent at Love.

“There's no question that when airfares and fees go up, it causes people to stay home or drive,” said Airfarewatchdog.com founder George Hobica. Fares on flights from DFW to Houston jumped 27 percent in the past five years while flights to Atlanta have increased 22 percent.

Hobica points out that no one has to take a vacation. And as airport security lines lengthen and there is a perception that flights are always full with few amenities, consumers, particularly families, choose to drive if they take a vacation.

But even with some consumers, like the Rogers family, opting to travel by car instead of flying, most flights this summer were full and airlines’ balance sheets were solidly in the black.

“Airlines were really good at filling up their planes this summer and they could charge pretty much what they wanted for convenient flights,” said Farecompare.com’s Rick Seaney.

Seaney cited convenient flights that are anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent higher than ones that require a connecting flight. With several airline mergers, there are fewer competitors on routes and during the economic downturn, airlines have been prudent when adding capacity to their networks.

So far in 2014, domestic flights have been about 84 percent full on average with international flights having load factors around 81 percent, BTS data show.

Fares did not go up on all of the routes at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. As new carriers like Virgin America and Spirit Airlines have added flights out of DFW, average fares dropped on routes to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco between five and seven percent since 2009.

How to get a deal

Travel experts say to get the best deals on airfares, consumers should book tickets early and be flexible on their travel dates. Traveling on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays is often cheaper than other days of the week. Checking travel websites and signing up for airfare alerts can also help consumers pay less for flights.

Despite more expensive airfares, consumers did bite the bullet and travel by air this summer, said Seaney, adding, “It’s a culmination of almost half a decade of stay-cations or near-cations.”

Consumers walking into Dynamic Travel & Cruises in Southlake often experience sticker shock, said owner Steve Cosgrove. Those who might have booked a great deal on a Mediterranean cruise are surprised to learn that airfare to Europe can cost thousands of dollars per ticket.

“People are shopping around and they are trying to save where they can,” Cosgrove said. “The ones that book far in advance and the ones that use their credit cards to get frequent flier miles, those are the ones that are not hurting too bad.”

Cosgrove said cruise lines have been adding more trips out of Galveston which has helped travelers from the Midwest who can choose between flying or driving to the port. He added the longer consumers wait to book a vacation, their options become more limited and the prices on airfares rise. He expects spring break trips to start booking up as early as September.

Rogers was also thinking of flying to North Carolina later this fall for her stepson’s graduation from Army boot camp. The high airfare made her change her mind and now only her husband, Joe, and her father-in-law are going, driving 18 hours to get there.

“Everybody wanted to go so we started looking into flights into North Carolina and it was right about $600 for a round-trip ticket for one person,” Rogers said. “That is just outrageous.”

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