March 15, 2009— -- When Denise Anderson and her two daughters planned their Florida trip a few months ago, flights from Chicago to Orlando were simply too expensive for their budget. They decided to drive the 1,100 miles... until airfares fell nearly $500, seemingly overnight.
"[Fares] were $226 a ticket, and they started out at $700," said Anderson. "So for my family it was a $1,500 savings."
For travelers across the country, it's rarely been cheaper to fly. The struggling economy has hit the airlines hard. Demand is down, especially among business flyers, so in recent weeks an all-out fare war has broken out.
"This is sort of a once-in-a-recession type thing," said Sholnn Freeman, aviation reporter for the Washington Post. "These deals probably go back to the last recession."
Just how low? In some cases, airfares have been slashed in half.
For example, a round-trip flight from Providence, R.I., to Phoenix, priced at $370 last summer, is now going for $106, according to travel Web site Bestfares.com.
A Washington D.C. flight to Orange County, Calif. is listed on Bestfares for $159. Last year, it might have cost you $542.
And a Los Angeles-to-London round-trip last summer would have cost about $1,300. Now, it's $559.To maximize your savings, travel experts suggest buying your flight on a Wednesday.
"Eighty percent of the fare sales usually start on a Tuesday morning, and then probably by Wednesday, we've got all the players in the game," said Bestfares.com CEO Tom Parsons.
In addition to slashing fares, some airlines are going a step further. JetBlue is offering refunds with no cancellation fee for ticketholders who lose their full-time jobs.
And for travelers who booked more expensive flights before prices dropped, some airlines are offering vouchers or frequent-flyer miles to make up the difference.
"Airlines are panicked right now," said Freeman. "So if people don't get on these planes ... we can all expect a lot more deals from the airlines."