Summer Ends Early, Airlines Offer Deals

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Guess what? Summer ends early this year: on Aug. 22, to be precise. At least it does according to the calendars the airlines use. And that's good news for you.

If you haven't had a chance to plan a trip yet or you've decided your only option is a staycation, congratulations are in order. You were clever enough to wait for the "magic departure date" that ushers in a season of savings. You might also save yourself an X-rated adventure in the security line (and more on that in just a bit).

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Maybe there's nothing inherently magic about Aug. 23, but it is the date many airlines have settled on this year to mark the beginning of their fall season; fall, of course, is when airfare prices start to drop and sometimes even plummet.

Note to shoppers: Many airlines begin their fall season (for departures, remember) on Aug. 23, while others start on Aug. 24. To figure out your airline's sweet spot for savings, use an airfare shopping site with a flexible date option so you don't miss out these deals.

There's definitely a method to this madness: Airlines spend millions to learn passengers' purchasing habits, and they know that most opt for summer vacation flights from late June through mid-August, and will pay whatever it costs to fly then.

Well, almost. A couple of summertime airfare hikes fizzled this year, but in general, summer is peak season for U.S. carriers and that's when they rake in the bucks. Until mid- to late-August, that is.

It doesn't take an Einstein to figure it out. In many parts of the country, kids head back to school in late August. Likewise, many potential passengers use the last weeks of summer to do all those chores they kept putting off. I mean, who wants to clean out the garage in July when you could be barbequing or watching the latest Harry Potter flick?

By the way, airlines aren't the only ones ready for autumn. I just heard a colleague complaining last week (yes, in July) that the window of her local Jo-Ann craft store was filled with Halloween decorations.

Which is what the airlines are doing, metaphorically speaking: They are getting ready for autumn. Consider the most recent big Southwest sale: good for travel beginning Aug. 24. Virgin America's last sale? Good for travel starting Aug. 23. Savings vary from a little to a lot.

Example: I looked at prices over the weekend on United Airlines for round-trip flights between Los Angeles and New York with a return on Aug. 22; the cheapest fare I found was $459; if you start traveling the very next day, your fare drops $80. It can drop even more on Southwest if you move your trip from early August to early September.

Bonus time: The fall airfare season ushers in delights beyond a bigger wad in your wallet, including better deals at hotels and shorter lines at popular attractions like Disney World. The herd thins out by late August and I'd like to say planes will be emptier, too, but I can't. The whole reason airlines do this seasonal discounting is to fill up their planes to stay in business. However, I can just about guarantee there will be fewer kids kicking your seatback on fall flights.

Even better (and this is a biggie): You may have a sweeter security experience. That's because the Transportation Security Administration is starting to install new software in those body scan machines to replace the so-called "naked picture" images that have driven so many passengers crazy. Perhaps you heard about the role-reversal incident earlier this month in which an apparently enraged Colorado woman was accused of groping a security agent.

The new security software has two advantages: It makes you look like a cartoonish cookie-cutter image, and you can see it for yourself. No more agents holed up in a "secret" room, viewing a somewhat graphic portrait of your parts behind locked doors; your Gingerbread Man-like picture will be family-friendly, from what I've seen. Look for the software upgrades in the next few months.

So start packing. Enjoy some of that fall foliage. But don't wait too long. When the leaves disappear, the airlines usher in the most expensive time of the year to fly. Think turkey, cranberries, stuffing...

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.