I keep saying no, you don’t have to be rich to fly (but if you need one of those overpriced, last-minute flights, it certainly helps). However, there are some negative trends that pit passengers against airlines. It helps to be aware of them because knowledge is power and power means not paying a penny more for your airline ticket than you have to.
LISTEN: Don’t worry, Rick Seaney’s got some good news, too.
Trends Favoring Airlines
Lack of Competition: As I noted in my most recent column for ABCNews.com, airlines are disappearing. Blame it on mergers like Southwest’s takeover of AirTran. When this happens, as we’ve seen all too often, airlines drop routes to a number of smaller and not-so-small cities and that hurts those travelers but in general less competition means higher airfares for all.
Capacity Cutting: Quick, when’s the last time you saw an empty middle seat. I can’t remember unless it was during a red-eye. Airlines have gotten very good as knowing precisely how many want to fly and where and providing planes with just enough seats so they all get filled. This in turn means there’s little incentive for discounting beyond cheaper fares for the least popular days to fly – Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays.
Demand is Steady: The economy still hasn’t fully recovered from the great recession of 2008 (though it’s certainly heading in the right direction), yet demand remains steady – always good news for airlines.
Trends Favoring Passengers
Competitive Cities: Fortunately, there are some very hot cities in today’s air travel market where an abundance of competition means good deals for flyers. Among these cheaper cities is Boston, Denver and Seattle.
Airfare Hike Failures: There have been about 13 attempts at hiking fares so far this year and most have ended in failure. Most of the success stories have been aimed squarely at the business traveler (where often the boss picks up the tab).
Wild Card – The Economy
Keep an eye on the economy. We won’t really know how this all shakes out – whether flying will become the perk of a wealthy elite – until the U.S. has a complete financial recovery. I still doubt that flying will be for the rich only, but it does bear watching.