Are the economics of Twitter airfares worth it?

More and more budget-travel tipsters are pointing towards Twitter, Facebook and social media outlets as the source for wild cheap airfares these days. And it’s true, in a way. By subscribing to the pundit feeds online it’s possible to get the inside scoop on a few good routes, often saving a few shekels on a future itinerary.

Broad, dirt cheap fares (sometimes called bingos), however, are harder to pin down. You’ve probably heard about the one guy who got a $7 airfare to Iceland or the other woman who flew to Buenos Aires for $40. These (mistake) fares usually occur two or three times a year and more often than not, last less than 24 hours. Yet these are the tickets that fuel the pundit followers.

Now, with the proliferation of active Twitterers, Flyertalk and Slickdeals, bingo fares are becoming harder and harder to find. Rick Seaney (@rickseaney) is a great example. The CEO of Farecompare has access to a broad spectrum of ticket data before it gets sent to travel agents like Orbitz and Expedia and as such, has a virtual crystal-ball into airfares that are going to soon be available. Great position to Tweet from, right? But can’t the airlines follow the same feed? Could they perhaps pay Mr. Seaney to find mistakes before we do? It’s not unlikely.
Now, the more “viral” a fare goes (with mistake fares), the greater the chance that it’ll be canceled quickly. So effectively, this boils the bingo fares down to being in the right place at the right time — in front of your computer, with a credit card when the fare goes live. And booking it. Immediately. Were you busy updating your Facebook profile? Reading Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter Feed? Digging through the endless retweet drivel that isn’t relevant to YOUR ticket? Sorry, you missed it.

In the end, its a question of opportunity cost. How well worth your time is it to sit at your desk, reading pages of Twitter junk to sift out your special fare? The forty hours that cumulatively add up over the course of the year could easily be spent, well, working — the output of which would be the money to buy a regularly priced ticket.

What today’s travel consumer needs is a low frequency, high volume alarm, one website that makes a phone call or sends an SMS only when your perfect fare comes up, the red telephone on your desk, so to speak. This phone may only ring once or twice a year, but when it does, you can pick it up and book your dream ticket. And until then? Spend your time reading Ashton’s feed and not blindly pawing around for bingo fares.

Now, who’s willing to make that call?