Holiday airfares range all over the map
If holiday travelers on the same plane compare what they paid to fly, they’re likely to find quite a spread, depending on when they bought their tickets.
Fares for travel around the holidays have been rising since late summer. Christmas fares are now running 4 percent below a year ago, and the gap is likely to disappear soon.
Contrast that with a year ago, when the airlines essentially put the holiday travel season on sale. With the recession in full force, airlines used discounting to fill seats.
People who waited to book holiday fares last year saved money. This year, holding off could cost you.
Most carriers pushed through a $10 fare increase at the end of October. For the holidays, the big airlines added a $20 surcharge each way on popular travel days closest to Christmas and New Year’s.
Tom Parsons of BestFares.com compared holiday fares purchased on July 1 with the same itinerary booked on Nov 2. Several had risen 50 percent or more. Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had more than doubled to $528.
Airlines have been shrinking to match a decrease in travel. With the supply of seats more in line with demand, carriers have been able to raise fares close to where they were last holiday season.
Average Thanksgiving fares are up 2 percent to $351, according to Bing Travel, the fare-watching Web site owned by Microsoft. The average Christmas fare is around $370 roundtrip, slightly below a year ago.
Thanksgiving fares “are up quite a bit even from where they were at the beginning of October,” said Joel Grus, who tracks fares for Bing Travel. He also thinks Christmas fares will soon be at last year’s levels.
Given the upward trend in fares, Grus says book now. Check on fares several times a day. Sometimes seats become available at a lower price.
Of course, the cheapest ticket is purchased with frequent flier miles. Airlines only make some seats on each flight available for purchase with frequent flier miles. Some are still available, but Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer magazine, said they’re getting scarce because most holiday travelers started booking those as early as August.
“As we get closer, there are good airfare deals,” he said, “but there’s not a lot left in frequent flier miles.”
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