Cheap Flights, Painted Planes, Airline Profits: Which Does Not Belong?

The headline isn’t much of a riddle: Which does not belong in this list?

A.  Cheap flights
B. Sparkling, new paint jobs on planes
C. Airline profits

If you guessed ‘cheap flights’ you’re on to something. As for painted planes and airline profits, they go together like bags and fees. Let me explain.

Painted Planes = Healthy Airlines

When airlines change their look, that generally means they’ve got money to burn and that’s fine – it means the carriers are healthy. Not so long ago, it was different story; during a single week in 2008, we saw three carriers throw in the towel. Shuttered airlines can’t take us anywhere so a healthy airline industry is very good news and there’s more.

  • Shiny, new planes: Some carriers are spending money on new planes while Frontier, Southwest and Spirit are painting theirs. It’s a definite improvement.
  • Better business class: Airlines are heating up competition for high-paying business travelers with cushier cabins that include lie-flat seats, better perks and sweetened miles deals. Even the discounters are getting into the act with Exhibit A being JetBlue’s new Mint flights.

But that’s not the whole story.

The Bad News for Passengers

We starting to see evidence of fare increases.

Rising prices: Late last week, Delta launched a domestic airfare hike of up to $10 round-trip across most of its route system (as of this writing, it too soon to say whether it will stick or not). Fall fares, meanwhile, are higher than last year, but only by about two to three percent. However, thanks to all the recent mergers (American/US Airways, Southwest/AirTran, United/Continental) plus the newly streamlined carriers’ determination to divest themselves of unprofitable routes, the table is set for higher fares.

How to avoid higher fares? Always compare prices. And follow these other money-saving tips.

  • See Rick’s latest ABC column for more on this topic. See all his columns here.


Published: September 22, 2014