Top five reasons you’ll pay more for flights

It looks like flight deals are a thing of the past. The airline sector is starting to recover, as evidenced by an aggregate $1.3 billion in earnings for the six largest U.S. carriers last quarter, and more profits are said to be on the horizon. Of course, we’re still in the early stages, and those earnings do pale in comparison to the $22.7 billion in losses sustained in 2008 and 2009. So, the airlines are making up for lost time and taking advantage of a swing in the economy … that means you’re going to pay for it.

Good news for the airlines, of course, translates to a thinner wallet for you, but it indicates that you’re at least willing to handle the higher cost, since airlines tend to be price-takers rather than price setters.

Why are you going to pay more for flights? Here are the top five reasons:

1. Extra fees no longer “extra”: they’re part of the package now. Airlines raked in $13.5 billion from fees in 2009, a 43 percent spike year over year. They aren’t going away. As the industry recovers, this will help keep fares higher.

According to the Associated Press:

United and American led the way on “ancillary revenue,” including fees, at about $1.8 billion apiece last year, according to IdeaWorks. United Airlines President John Tague calls fees “an unequivocal success,” and suggests his airline could still double the amount it’s bringing in with baggage fees.

2. The market supports higher prices: airlines charge what they can get, as it is a consumer-driven market. So far, consumers are responding favorably to price increases, with fares up an average of 18 percent this summer.

3. Airlines to hold the line this fall: demand is expected to decline through the end of summer, and the airline will try to keep from offering deep discounts. In fact, many are offering deals to get passengers interested but are able to convert into higher-priced seats.

4. Shared armrests the norm:
the planes are full. Delta filled close to 90 percent of its seats last month, with Continental at 87 percent and American at 86 percent. This means there are more fares covering the cost of the flight, which delivers favorable financial results.

5. Temptation to add flights resisted: rather than bring more planes out to handle this increase in demand, the airlines seem to be fighting the urge, because bookings are sluggish and the economic recovery is tenuous.

[photo by Ma1974 via Flickr]