Even as average airfares climb, some airlines are knocking the stuffing out of ticket prices for leisure travelers around the Thanksgiving holidays. Some of the holiday cuts are 40% or more from previously quoted fares on selected routes, says Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com. They only apply to certain off-peak days, so passengers need to keep their plans flexible.
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But the discounts are the exception to overall rising airfares.
Last weekend, several airlines pushed through a $20 increase on round-trip fares. There have been seven fare-raising attempts by the biggest full-fare airlines since Labor Day, says Terry Trippler of TripplerTravel.com.
"I've never seen fares go up this fast in this short (amount) of time," Trippler says.
Business travelers are taking the biggest hit. In January, 2005, discounter Southwest's maximum walk-up fare was $598 round trip. Now, after a series of increases, the highest priced fare is $718, up 20%.
Overall, Thanksgiving travel will cost flyers an average of $358 for a domestic round-trip ticket this year, up 2.6% from the same holiday period last year and 8.5% from 2005, says Amy Ziff, editor-at-large for Travelocity.
That's why the fare sale, initiated last week by Northwest Airlines and picked up by other carriers, could prove a boon to holiday travelers. A round trip between Bangor, Maine, and San Francisco falls 40% to $358 round trip on the most inexpensive days to fly, even with only a seven-day advance purchase, Parsons says.
Flights between San Antonio, Texas, and Memphis are as cheap as $248, down 42%. Tickets have to be purchased before next Wednesday for travel on those selected bargain days through Jan. 7.
The cheapest days to fly include next Tuesday and Wednesday, the Monday before Thanksgiving and the holiday itself.
Parsons says another fare-cutting round may be in store as airlines attempt to fill whatever empty seats that remain over the period. But at this point, he says consumers shouldn't delay in buying if they see a fare that catches their eye.
The fares may appear especially attractive given the recent rise in gas prices, Trippler says. "Filling up the SUV is now very expensive and flying is probably cheaper."
Now that the price of oil has pushed past the $90 a barrel mark, airlines are getting hit right along with drivers. Air carriers blame rising oil prices as the prime factor why fares are on the way up. But strong passenger demand factors in as well. Trippler says he doesn't think airlines will drop their spate of fare increases even if the price of oil plummets.
"When oil comes down, these fares aren't coming down," he says.
Contributing: Marilyn Adams