By Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times
April 1, 2012
If you're hoping to book airline tickets for your summer vacation, you may be feeling some extra pain in your pocketbook. A trifecta of factors is playing havoc with airline ticket prices ($1,400 round-trip from LAX to London's Heathrow? Really?) and pinching penny-pinchers' budgets.
Airline experts say you can pinch back. Here are some suggestions.
Don't go. The consumer can express his displeasure about airfare prices by boycotting. That's easier for the leisure traveler, of course, but decreased passenger counts could make airlines sit up and take notice.
Go, but don't fly. George Hobica, founder of low-cost-seeking Airfarewatchdog.com, suggests taking a cruise from the West Coast. Cruises can be an inexpensive vacation option, he says, but you'll lose that bargain edge if you "drink too much, gamble too much or have too many facials," he notes.
Drive. That may mean staying closer to home if you don't tolerate long trips, but for a family, the cost of a driving trip may be significantly less than the price of airline tickets. For instance, if a family of four were to fly to, say, Seattle, leaving July 10 and returning July 23, the lowest fare I found last Sunday was $230 on Virgin America and Alaska (that fare may no longer be available) for a total of $920. If you were to drive to Seattle in a car that gets 27 mpg (and if you bought all your gas in California), you'd spend about $363 to drive the 2,270 miles. Readers have been quick to point out that the road trip cost doesn't include meals and motels, but driving still can be less, especially if you include the cost of getting to and from the airports and baggage fees, if the airline charges them. Plus, you don't have to rent a car when you get there.
Fly, but be aware of when you might find bargains. You can always go the opaque route — that is, use Priceline or Hotwire, which don't reveal times or routes (hence the "opaque" label). If you choose that method, flexibility is key because you can't control times (departure, arrival or length of trip).
If time is a factor, consider these tips from Rick Seaney, chief executive of Farecompare.com, an airline ticket comparison site:
—Fly on the cheapest days: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. "If you can do it only for half the trip, you still get half the benefit," he says.
—Shop for an airline ticket at noon on Tuesdays, Pacific time. Here's why, he says: Airlines often announce sales on Monday nights; by Tuesday morning, other airlines are scrambling to match that price. They need a couple of hours to load those fares into the reservations systems, and by the time they do, it's about 3 p.m. Eastern time, which is noon in our area.
—Don't shop Fridays and Saturdays. "If you do, you're paying too much," he says. Sales tend to last three days and by week's end, those fares are gone.
—Examine all your options. If it's wildly expensive to fly to London, check another destination. (A fare to Paris for late July costs about $60 less than to London.) Similarly, if you have a choice of airports, as is often the case with Florida destinations, he says, check all of them, and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Finally, remember that airline tickets are still comparatively reasonable. The average cost of a domestic ticket in 1995, according to the Bureau of Transportation statistics, was $292. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $436 — not too far off the $500 you'll pay to fly coast to coast this summer but less, of course, if you're a savvy shopper.
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