Super Bowl Fable: $2,000 Ticket vs. $600 Ticket

PHOTO: In this file photo, the exterior of MetLife Stadium is pictured on Jan. 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, N.J.Rich Schultz/Getty Images
In this file photo, the exterior of MetLife Stadium is pictured on Jan. 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Back in the days of yore (well, 2008), there was a lad from Brooklyn who was a rabid Giants fan. One fine day, his team won the right to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl and he decided to cheer them on in person. Alas, he waited too long to buy his airline ticket to Phoenix and had to fork over about $2,000.

This of course left our hero broke (but at least his team won).

Moral of the story: Don't wait until the last minute to buy airfare, but if you do, you better hope that the game is played in a big metropolis. Like the New York area. Earlier this week, tickets from Seattle to New York - round-trip tickets on non-stop flights - were available for a mere $600+!

There are all kinds of lessons to be learned from Super Bowl travel, including why your destination matters (and more on that in a moment). But first, it's important to know something about the airlines. After all, they know plenty about you.

It's the dirty little secret of airfare pricing: Airlines know your shopping habits and use that information against you, so you pay the highest fare possible. They know that you like to procrastinate, they know you like the convenience of non-stops, they know whether you do or don't care about miles programs. They even know what time of day you want to fly.

See for yourself: Flights that require you to rise at 4 a.m. are usually significantly cheaper than the 9 a.m. flight. Flights on Fridays and Sundays are almost always higher than midweek trips. And you better believe the airfare from Smallville to Midcity is going to cost more than a hub-to-hub commuter run like Dallas-Houston.

So airlines use this information to quote you a price that can change at any given moment depending on when you buy. Still, there are a couple of ways you can win the airfare game any time you shop, even (to an extent) for this year's Super Bowl, but I have two words for you procrastinating football fans: Shop now.

In Airfare Shoppers' Favor

Economy: There's a certain unsettled quality about airfare pricing these days; a lot of it has to do with our still-recovering economy. You see this as airlines probe travelers' appetites for higher prices and they do this by launching airfare hikes. Rival carriers either join in on or not; if the latter, prices roll back. In 2013, an even dozen hikes were launched but only two succeeded, and small ones at that. Shoppers must learn to set airfare alerts to catch the airlines between these higher-pricing probes.

Destination: Here's where we get to the part about the $600+ Super Bowl fares and we begin with the old adage about what matters: location, location, location. American recently announced service cuts to smaller cities (and some not so small towns) but this is not a new trend. The good news is, if you're close to a hub, or have access to multiple airports, or both, the competition helps keep prices down. The greater Los Angeles area is a good example with massive LAX flanked by Burbank and Long Beach airports.

An even better example is the greater New York area. Fans of this year's Super Bowl are blessed with five airports within shouting distance of MetLife Stadium including LaGuardia (the closest airport), JFK, Newark, Islip and Trenton-Mercer.

The airlines are helping, too, by laying on more flights from Seattle and Denver. Shortly after that began we saw an almost unheard-of drop in Seattle-New York prices for direct flights, from $840 to about $600 round-trip. Nice, especially compared with 2008's $2,000 fare.

Looking to score more Super Bowl flight discounting? Try flying outside the traditional Friday to Monday itinerary by departing on Saturday and returning on Tuesday. Warning: Weather delays could mean you'll watch the game on TV in an airport bar, so you might want to consider heading out to New York even earlier, say mid-week.

However, hotel prices in the greater New York area aren't cheap even in off-peak season,and when an Econo Lodge 10 miles from the stadium charges almost $700 a night during Super Bowl weekend, you know you'll pay. On the other hand, there's a potentially cheaper option that wasn't available to our hero of the $2,000 airfare saga, and that's Airbnb (founded August, 2008): Rent a room in someone's home.

Or here's a radical idea: You could skip the Super Bowl in favor of a winter trip to Europe. Believe it or not, some fares to Ireland have been going for less than flights from Seattle to New York on Super Bowl weekend and while they don't play much American football in Dublin, you might get lucky and catch a rousing Rugby match.