Worried about the effect of economic pressures on travel, the major airlines have unleashed a slew of unusually steep fare sales in recent days, travel experts say.
Cheap airfares are typical this time of year, which is traditionally the slowest period for travel. But many carriers have slashed prices on tickets for flights in the spring and even early summer.
“The travel period is really extended this year,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive of Dallas-based FareCompare.com, which monitors airline ticket prices.
The discounts on spring travel suggest that the major airlines are unsure how strong bookings will be, given the economy’s weakness.
Last January, fare sales typically covered travel only through March, he said. “But this year, we’re seeing them go out to the end of April, and some are even sneaking into June.”
For example, on Monday, Fort Worth-based American Airlines slashed prices to many international destinations, including flights to South America that depart in June.
Several carriers, including American and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, have been selling coast-to-coast flights for $99 each way, Seaney said. “A $99 transcontinental [flight] is pretty much the holy grail of airfares,” he said.
He cautioned that discounts don’t apply to every destination. Prices remain high to cities like Orlando, Fla., he said, where travelers look to escape the winter cold.
“And keep in mind that only about 20 percent of the seats [on a flight] will be discounted,” he said. Consumers need to move quickly once sales are advertised, or they’ll face a much higher price.
Travel experts at Travelocity.com, an Internet travel agency based in Southlake, also caution consumers not to focus solely on airline fares.
Package deals that bundle flights with hotel rooms and rental cars can sometimes be a better deal overall, said Travelocity senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown.
“Travelers need to start concentrating on the total cost of their vacation to take advantage of the greatest savings,” she said. “Focusing too much on airfare at the expense of other trip elements often costs travelers money in the long run.”