Podcast Transcript: Busted: The Truth Behind 6 Air Travel Myths

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Rick: Hey everybody thank you for joining us today on the FareCompare weekly podcast. My name is Rick Seaney and I’m the co-founder of FareCompare.com. We’re going to chat a little bit about some travel myths. And busting a few of those myths. We’ve done that over time. Over time, over the last three of four years and we have a couple more. Some oldies but goodies and probably some new ones too. Joining us today to talk about some of these myths is our editor from the site from California this week. Hey Anne!

Anne: I love airline myths because half the time even I believe them and I think, ?oh boy, well you can?t do this? or ?you?ve got to do this?. But no. You are going to tell us the real story. Like the myth #1: Super cheap airlines always have the cheapest ticket prices.

Rick: Yeah we just had a discussion in a previous podcast about average fares. Which I hate that statistic. And I also have hate branding somebody as the cheapest because on many route and in many cases other airlines match. So what does that mean if you’re the cheapest? Then it’s about convenience at that point. So who has the most convenient? And then on the flip side. The “low cost” airlines, which has nothing to do with cheapness. If you call them a “low fare” airline it may have something to do with cheapness. Not any airline. Not one of them in the United States has the cheapest price on every route, every day, on every departure that you could go on. It’s absolutely impossible to do that. Some airlines are cheaper than others and different days and different times. That’s why people love to comparison shop. For example, Spirit Airlines might say they have a $9 fare or a $50 fare or an $80 fare but once you add on all the extra carry-on fees and what-not it may be higher than somebody else’s ticket.

Anne: OK myth #2: If you purchase your airline tickets way ahead of time, you will get the biggest savings.

Rick: Yeah. There’s this common rule that if I shop really, really early than I’ll get the best deal. Which is just not true. Now there are a couple of exceptions. If you’re shopping for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, typically you can shop anytime of year because there’s never a good deal. There’s always only better-bad deals on those particular days.

Anne: There’s never a good deal. Oh great.

Rick: But on the flip side of that. We just saw this in Dallas where they did have some good deals around Thanksgiving because of a super sale. It happens from time to time but very rarely. So, typically you have to think of airlines. Airlines are basically looking at what happened last year. And if you decide to buy eight months in advance for your ticket from Las Angeles to New York, the airlines are going to say, “look I dont really know what the price point should be this year. But I’m gonna sell you well above what the average was last year.” We have that average again. “And I’m happy to do that. Go ahead and buy that if you would like.” Then as they start to get closer to the travel day. Three and a half months or so toward the actual departure date, the computer starts saying, “Ok now I have to start checking. Let me throw in a couple cheaper prices here. Hey are they selling pretty well?” As the days go on for that particular flight, the computer systems will then start to say, “It’s filling up a lot. I’m going to raise the price. Now there’s not enough seats, I’m going to lower the price.’ And that happens dynamically. But that process starts occurring about three to three and a half months before departure so you don’t want to shop too early.

Anne: OK, on the other end of the spectrum, some people believe that if you wait to buy your airline tickets until the very last minute that they will be dirt cheap.

Rick: Ah, yes. Well, we’ve seen a lot of things like hotel sites, hotel tonight. If you land and buy your hotel the same day, that’s spoiled inventory. Just like if somebody doesn’t fly in an empty seat that’s spoiled inventory and they’re going to give it to you as cheaply as possible. That just doesn’t happen with airline seats. In fact, airlines have to be really confident on how many seats they’re going to sell at the end because they would like to sell those to business travelers who typically pay anywhere from three to five times more than sort of the going rate if you had shopped, lets say a couple months before hand. And so at the last minute you’re going to be treated like your boss is buying your ticket and therefore it’s going to be the most expensive. Now, do they have weekend specials? Absolutely. Every now and then we see, you know a Thursday-Tuesday or a Friday-Monday sort of special. They’ll throw in some cheap stuff to some locations. I’ve seen a lot of Canadian cheap stuff but it’s on the days that we hate to go and that our boss doesn’t give us time off. So, are there some deals at the last minute? There are. They’re called super specials and typically they’re not Friday evening to Sunday evening. They’re usually Thursday to Tuesday, for example.

Anne: I will say this. They’re not super special. I mean, they’re ok but I haven’t seen anything. Nobody is giving away tickets.

Rick: No, no. I think now, you might of had this. I think one of the reasons this myth is out there is back oh maybe six or seven years ago. 2007 or so when the load factors were in the high 60%, which means the number of people on a plane. Now they’re close to 90%. There was probably a little bit of bickering going on at the last minute but that just doesn?t occur very much now.

Anne: Um, some people believe that if you want a dream vacation this summertime or maybe at christmastime, don?t buy that expensive ticket, just use your miles. You’re laughing. You’re laughing!

Rick: Yeah, I think that. Just the word, “use your miles” is a sore subject for many people. In fact I was just chatting with somebody yesterday at the lake saying they could never redeem their miles on a particular airline. The reason for that is everybody wants to go to the same six or seven places. London, Paris, Rome, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Orlando, New York for example. If you’re trying to redeem your tickets for those top destinations, there are no seats for you. They’re not going to give them to you. Especially at their lower redemption rates. Which is basically their, what they call capacity control. Which basically means we’ll decide if we want to release those seats. So you end up having to use the bulk of your points or double your amount of points to get there and it’s just not the case to those special destinations. Now if you have some other sort of odd-ball destinations, usually you can find something. But those top destinations are very difficult.

Anne: OK. There’s another myth. It?s ok to cram a carry-on bag until it almost bursts at the seams and you’ll be just fine and you’ll save that bag fee.

Rick: Yeah. Well, you know United Airlines. Well, I think a lot of people are well aware. They watch people come in with these ridiculously sized bags with three or four different bags. The gate agents are spotty on whether or not they’re controlling some of this stuff. United Airlines basically came out and said that they would be doing a much better job at this. We’ll see how long that lasts, by the way Anne. Um in general, if you get caught there, in theory they could send you back outside of security to check that bag.

Anne: Yeah.

Rick: And if you do that at the last minute, you may miss your flight and what not.

Anne: Well plus you’ve got to pay. Yeah, I mean. You know. Well yeah and you’re gonna end up having to pay but I think a lot of people see these other people sneaking in and not having to pay the $50 round trip and they’re gonna try just like they try in many other cases to see how much they can get through. Especially during the holidays. I see it all the time where people are carrying three or four bags and nobody says anything.

Anne: I have seen people that are taking aside and they are given a talking to and the bag is taken from them. Actually I’ve seen people sent to a gate agent to pay. Not a gate agent but the person standing behind the desk right near the gate agent. So, you know. It can be a crap shoot.

Rick: Yeah sure. If they start to crack down even more and they’re catching 20% or even 30%, I think peoples behavior will change. Until that time I think people will still test the limits.

Anne: OK. Thanks Rick.

Rick: I just. Well, I’m just telling you what people do. $50 is $50 Anne.

Anne: I know, believe me!

Rick: They will basically skirt it. Or whatever they can do. They’ll have their kid over there crying to distract the gate agent. Whatever it takes Anne, they’ll do it.

Anne: Thanks Rick.


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Published: June 3, 2014