I admit it. At times I am clairvoyant.
Like a year ago, in this column, when I predicted that 2009 would be "the Year of the Airline Ticket Sale" (with appropriate hedging and waffling -- uh -- just in case).
However, I bow to the venerable Chinese calendar for the best air travel prediction ever -- made back in 2008 -- which they dubbed, appropriately, the "Year of the Rat." It was a rodent-like year, all right, one passengers remember as the "Year of Airline Fees and High Fuel Prices."
And now it's 2010 -- the "Year of the Tiger." Keeping that in mind, let me pull out the crystal ball again and give you my top prediction: yes, there will be some ferociously great airfare sales -- but, overall, airline ticket prices will be higher -- possibly much higher.
If an airline ticket could look in a mirror, its reflected price would mimic a few key indicators: competition, fuel, seat supply and demand.
None of which, I'm afraid, is trending in the air travel consumer's favor.
The airfares of 2009 were amazing. Roundtrip to Europe for under $300 doesn't sound remotely possible, but it was. We are coming off record lows, domestically and on many international flights -- the lowest prices in decades, in some cases -- so airfares really don't have anywhere to go but up.
What's more, the airlines have been systematically cutting seats by reducing schedule frequency and dumping unprofitable routes -- seats they couldn't fill unless they priced them at or below cost. So those discounts are gone.
Another grim omen on the horizon: the price of oil. This week it crossed the $80-a-barrel threshold, which was just about its price when airlines started adding those pesky fuel surcharges to their ticket prices -- surcharges that hit up to $100 on roundtrip domestic flights back in May 2008.
Oh, and don't forget: the airlines have already added special surcharges to "peak travel days" including most of "spring break." Why? Because they can. And they need and want to make some money.
But I did say there would be sales, and there will be -- though some won't look like the sales of yore. By that I mean you can look for more lightning sales lasting just a single day or two: we saw a smattering of those in the latter part of 2009, powered in part by social media like Twitter and Facebook -- because that's where the airfares of the future will be advertised.
And watch for more of those "all-you-can-eat" deals. By that I mean a revival of JetBlue's very successful "all-you-can-fly" pass, which was launched back in August and quickly sold out (pass holders could take as many JetBlue flights as they liked in a 30 day period for just $599). There was also United's ongoing bag fee deal – pay $249 and you and your family can check two bags each on all the flights you want for a year. We'll see more of this.