Why Airlines Don't Dare Sell You Cheaper Tickets

Yes, there are plenty of high-priced tickets out there for summer, but don’t look to the airlines for much help (look to me – and I’ve got some good tips for you, below). The airlines can’t afford to give you much help.

Summer Airfare Analysis: What You’ll Pay in 2012

Aren’t bag fees still bringing in a billion or so?

Airlines make a lot of money off baggage fees, but not as much as they used to. Travelers are getting savvier about avoiding fees. Plus, the airlines for the most part had a poor first quarter this year, and even though the price of oil has dropped a bit, it’s still high and still about 30 percent of a carrier’s operating costs. They need to make some money and they see the high-demand travel season as one of their best shots at dinging your credit card.

The price of oil is still a big deal?

It sounded crazy when news broke that Delta Air Lines was purchasing an oil refinery but that’s what happens when the cost of jet fuel goes sky high and hedging is difficult because the price keeps yo-yo-ing the high cost of jet fuel. As of this writing (5-30-12), oil is about $87 a barrel, while just a couple of months ago it was nearly $110 and the January 2009 price was a mere $36+ per barrel.

7 Surprise Problems for Travelers (and what they can do about them)

In case you’re wondering, jet fuel prices lag a few weeks behind oil price changes. As for hedging, where the airlines would lock-in fuel costs by essentially betting on the price of oil-related futures, this has fallen a bit out of favor due to the cost and volatility.

Here’s proof of that volatility. Check out these jet fuel prices (per gallon) from select dates during the past few years:

  • Jan. 2007: $1.57
  • Nov. 2008: $4.81
  • Mar. 2009: $1.11
  • Oct. 2009: $2.09
  • July 2010: $1.91
  • Feb. 2011: $3.01
  • Dec. 2011: $2.74
  • April 2012: $3.32

Can you still find relatively cheap flights?

Yes, and here are four practical tips to help you do just that:

  1. Shop Tuesday for the best deals: Unless there is a very unusual sale, you will not find the best deals on weekends.
  2. Make some sacrifices: Most of us want to leave on Friday and return Sunday to make the most of our vacation time but those are the most expensive days to fly. Travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays for a significant price break, and don’t turn up your nose at overnight flights, dawn flights or connecting flights because those are cheaper, in many cases by $100+ per person.
  3. Compare prices: If you only shop one airline – even discount carriers like Southwest or JetBlue – you may not get the best price. Legacy carriers have been known to beat the low-cost competition and beat them big time. You won’t know if you don’t compare.
  4. Delay your trip until late August: That’s when prices tend to drop in preparation for the new school year.


Published: May 31, 2012