If Your Airline's Painting Planes, Watch Out

Could a new paint job mean higher fares?

— -- You may have heard a lot lately about “livery,” and if you're not exactly sure what the heck that is, join the club.

The somewhat archaic definition dates back to the 13th century, and when airlines talk livery, they refer to airplanes' uniforms: the colors, logos and other easily identifiable branding that let you know you're flying Airline A instead of Brand X.

And sprucing up livery is the order of the day: Southwest last week unveiled its bold new look that I think is great, even though one observer compared it to the primary color scheme of Wonder Bread. Frontier, meanwhile, is adding its website address to aircraft (but keeping those tail critters) and Spirit's vivid new paint job sort of makes its planes look like psychedelic bananas, but that yellow is distinctive! And that's the point.

Who cares? You should. All this paint could affect what you pay to fly.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

I've said it before, I'll say it again: When airlines have money for paint jobs - and the estimates I've seen are all over the map, ranging from $30, 000 per plane to $150,000 and more - airlines have money to burn. And when airlines have money, there's not a whole lot of incentive to lower airfares.

Note: According to the Star-Telegram, Southwest says its new look is "cost-neutral" because the planes will be painted only as previously scheduled for a new coat. But was the price of the new design cost-neutral?

Anyway, we've been lucky so far. Yes, airlines are financially healthy again - a quick perusal of any news business section tells you that - but they're moving slowly on the ticket price front.

So what about the passengers? There are still a few silver linings.

Shiny new planes: Who likes to fly in ancient and not-all-that-clean aircraft? Airline profits mean more plane purchases along with the aforementioned paint jobs.

Healthy airlines: Carriers that go bust can't get you anywhere and back in 2008, busts were big news. During a single week in April of that year, ATA, Aloha and SkyBus all went belly up.

International airlines fell victim to the rotten economy as well, and there were numerous stories about passengers being stranded.

That's not something we have to worry about today. On the other hand, higher ticket prices may well be a concern. Here's what you can do.

Shop one day earlier than you planned: Don't take this too literally; it's really a reminder not to wait until the last minute to buy your airline tickets because if you do, I guarantee you'll pay way too much. You can start shopping three months ahead and try to finish up 30 days in advance of your trip (or two weeks in advance at the latest for the major airlines).

Compare prices: No single airline always has the best price. None. Shop an airfare comparison site to be sure you're getting the best deal possible.

Now get out there and let me know what you think of that new paint job.

(Editor's Note: Rick Seaney is the CEO of Farecompare.com. His opinions do not reflect those of ABC News.)