We Are Living in a Golden Age of Airline Fare Wars
I am not writing this from above a Norwegian fjord, but I could be — for less than the cost of a weekend rental car in New York City.
I am not writing this from above the Rappongi Hills in Tokyo, but I could be — for the cost of dinner (for one!) at S.F.’s Atelier Crenn restaurant.
Ditto Paris, London, Dublin, Hanoi, and more cities in Europe and Asia. There are myriad problems with flying in 2017, but so far, this year, high fares hasn’t been one of them. Au contraire, les gars: Every week brings news of a new, jaw-dropping, barrel-bottom-scraping fare, whether $99 one-way from the Northeast to Scandinavia or $500 round-trip from San Diego to Osaka, Japan. (This second deal is live as of presstime; earlier this spring, we saw California-to-Asia deals closing in on $300.) Fly domestically and you could still luck out, as JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit, Alaska, and Southwest debut weekly pop-up sales.
Caution must abound. Low-cost European carriers like Norwegian and WOW, based in Iceland, know what they’re doing, even as they use low prices to woo new customers: That cheap fare to Norway probably isn’t available on the way back (which is why the thing to do is fly the sale fare to Europe and return on points with the carrier or alliance of your choice.) And costs for “amenities” — like meals and baggage allowances — add up: A recent survey found that Spirit, famous for its ultra-low fares, charged more than any other airline for add-ons like seat reservations and extra legroom, adding $100 to the average return ticket. Caveat emptor.
That said: If you can travel light and if your schedule is flexible (and if you’re OK with the carbon footprint associated with air travel), this is a golden age of international exploration. It won’t last: A new study by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the GBTA Foundation projects that plane travel with increase 3.5% worldwide next year, with similar increases in hotel costs. Why? Dropping fuel costs have done much to push down the price of air travel — they look set to rise. And the mergers in the hotel world will give companies better leverage in setting prices.
The time, then, is now.
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