Airlines can’t seem to make a clear market assessment of what will happen in the coming months and airfares are all over the place from cheap to expensive both for cash tickets and awards.
Note: Broad, quantifiable data with regard to flight prices and load factors won’t be available until months following flown segments, and is not typically forward-looking. Observations are based on my research, and what I am able to find right now but airlines can always drop or increase their prices later. TL;DR – this is not empirical data, it’s a slice in time; your experience may vary.
Some Flights Are Very Expensive
Some markets are simply inordinately expensive. One contact shared their experience shopping united prices in coach to Quito and finding $2,200-$4,000 roundtrips compared with American’s $641 – still pricey for the route.
International business class has some sweet spots (ignoring one-stop recliner first class service on Icelandair) but even off-week business class fares in the second week of December with nonstop fares $3,200+ with many destinations above $4,000 – this used to be one of the best times to fly across the pond.
CNBC reported that holiday flights will be the most expensive they’ve ever been. I searched some basic city pairs and found this to be true generally. Holiday fares are always expensive but this year is undoubtedly higher. From New York (all airports) to LAX the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, returning that Sunday is $499 roundtrip on Spirit ($456 with one-stop in Detroit), JetBlue only slightly higher at $528. The cheapest after those two is United at $702, Alaska lists a staggering $822 for a Newark departure, Delta is selling at $868 and American joins the party at $937.
New York to Fort Lauderdale is available on a single flight for $351, but the rest of the market is in the mid-$400s on just about every carrier that flies the three-hour route.
Holiday flights are always expensive, but is a 22-26% surcharge really that big of a deal? Not necessarily.
Airlines Offer Fall Discounts
Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airlines have made finding cheap airline tickets in the fall an easier endeavor. Frontier threw out a $19/each way fare, IcelandAir has a trans-Atlantic sale running with flights from $399. Outside of discounters, network carriers are back to pre-pandemic flight prices for low leisure travel periods. From Washington DC, flights to Dublin, and Lisbon are under $410. Business class fares come back to more reasonable levels too, operating around the mid $2,000s.
On the domestic front, the near constant New York to Florida flights are selling for reasonable amounts in the winter of between $170-210 roundtrip, a way off from pre-pandemic levels where $60-80 roundtrips were available from ULCCs, but still a comfortable price point for most.
What Do The Tea Leaves Say?
It’s difficult to pin down where the chips will fall but the waffling of airfare prices will land soon and settle where the market allows. The theme appears to be uncertainty with reserved optimism. It’s no secret that business travel has not fully returned but leisure travelers have filled in some gaps. It appears to me that airlines are unsure just how full flights will be when almost no leisure travelers are in the market.
My gut feeling is that as flights go out with more unsold seats than have been seen in the last year, there will be some price testing of the market with good deals from mid-January. Spring break travel bumps will extend further than in years past as “bleisure” trips adjust the landscape and provide traveler flexibility.
Ultimately, it’s my belief that airlines will have to curtail their schedules some as business travelers that demand (and vote with their dollars) based on schedule fail to purchase tickets and the need for frequency drops.
I also believe that there will be some unique mileage redemption opportunities in the same period and then following mid-April until summer.
Airfares are all over the place right now. Some markets are expensive, some time periods are expensive and some are cheap. I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen the same bottom of the market with flights for tens of dollars as frequent and expansive as has been in the case in the past, but I have little doubt that it will return.
What do you think? What are you finding?