Oh, the airlines aren't jettisoning a la carte pricing -- it's just that now they've added continuous weekly airfare sales, ever since a few days before Halloween 2008. Unfortunately (for the airlines), travelers are now also becoming "conditioned" to expect airfare sales, and they wait until the very last minute to buy. And that drives airlines crazy.
You see, for the airlines, the history of consumer "booking behavior" has been a key tool used in pricing seats and, for the moment, recent history looks more like 1930 than 2009. Not only are business travelers cutting back significantly, but leisure travelers are now conditioned to expect rock-bottom prices before they buy.
Why pay retail? Why, indeed.
Meanwhile, the airlines are facing new competition for ticket sales: A couple of large online travel agencies have waived booking fees -- in an attempt to create a more level playing field with the airlines, which typically don't impose such fees (except for Spirit, of course).
So, where are we? In heaven, if you're a passenger -- and flying blind, if you're an airline. What to charge? And when will we hit bottom? Reminds me of the stock market...
A final word of caution for fliers: Many airlines have already said they plan to cut capacity (seats) in the fall -- and some say they'll do this even sooner -- so, assume the brace position for more yo-yo pricing as we move into the typically busy summer air travel months.
But for now, enjoy the deals -- if you thought you couldn't afford to fly, think again. Hey, it's not like you're paying retail.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.