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Aviation Blog - Jay Ratliff

Beat the airlines at their own (fare) game!


Buckle up, it gets bumpy from here.

Travelers are in store for a summer filled with turbulence as air fares continue to rise. The growing international turmoil in the Middle East is causing the price of crude oil to rise and airlines are wasting no time in increasing their fares to several markets around the country to compensate.

During the month of May airlines increased their average fare by 6%, the largest single month increase since 1999…yes, fifteen years. Airlines are now in the profitability mindset and they will waste absolutely no time in raising fares to protect their bottom line.

However, there are a few ways to beat airlines in the fare-war game.

First, please plan ahead. I cannot count the number of emails I receive from around the country which state something along the line of, “Jay, the air fares are so high and I can’t believe it. After all, I planned ahead by buying my tickets 6 weeks before I traveled!” Sorry, that just won’t cut it.

When I mention the need for planning ahead, I mean by months – at least six. You can make airline reservations on most carriers 11+ months in advance of your departure date and the sooner you can make them the sooner you can lock in your fares, guarding against future fare increases. The poor traveler who waits until the week before to fly many times ends up paying the highest fare of any sitting in the coach compartment.

Over the past 30 years I would overhear conversations between strangers during the flight and the bubbly person sitting in the window seat can’t help but brag on the fact their ticket was only $179 each way. Unfortunately the person trapped in the middle seat is relegated to a two hour torture session sitting in a seat that cost more than $550.

When I plan ahead I will visit a third party website like Priceline to see what the average rate is between airlines. Many low cost carriers are not reflected on these sites so I may need to visit the website for Southwest or Jet Blue if they fly in the market I am shopping. Once I have an average price I will continue checking the sites a few times a week, so that if the air fares drop suddenly I know to pounce upon them! If your weekly checks show a round trip air fare of $474 and one time the fare pops up as $299 – you know to grab the fares as soon as possible. Do not think about it or wait for it to drop lower, act before the few seats at that price are taken.

You may win the lottery one day and check fares and see prices like $12 or $47. Instead of thinking it is too good to be true, GRAB the seats while you can. Computers and those who program them are prone to malfunctioning, so if you see a mistake – take advantage of it. Unless the mistake is for a First Class ticket, most carriers will allow you to keep the fare you have secured.

A while back US Airways loaded a ton of $10 fares by mistake. One traveler in Charlotte spotted the error and purchased a ticket to see his parents for every other weekend in Seattle for the rest of the year! Whether he used them or not, it was a steal and he took advantage of it.

Days of the week are also a determining factor for fare calculations. If possible fly on either Tuesday or Wednesday and avoid Sunday, Monday and Friday travel since these three days are the most expensive time to travel because so many business travelers use these days to travel.

With a little advance preparation, you can save considerable money as you plan your next trip. Just do your fellow travelers a favor and try not to mention your victory to the poor soul stuck in the middle seat.

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