Spring Break deals: Fares up overall, best deals can be found to Florida, Europe

The folks over at Bing Travel have been studying up on 2011 Spring Break airfare, and we hate to break it to you, but they’ve found that the average airfare cost is up more than 10 percent over last year, to $489. But the airfare increase doesn’t have to stop the beach party. If you choose wisely, there are still plenty of Spring Break deals to be had.

Bing’s Spring Break Travel Forecast says that lower fares on flights to Florida (particularly Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa) can still be found. The average fare for Boston to Jacksonville is $233, and you can fly from San Francisco to Tampa for $300.

And while many overseas airfares have risen since last year, average airfares from several U.S. cities to Paris, Amsterdam and Rome have dropped as much as 13 percent over Spring Break season fares in 2010.

If you are just settling into spring break planning mode, here are some tips from Bing on finding the best spring break deals:

  • Be Flexible. Now we would never suggest skipping a day of classes, but, ahem, you will do better on airfare if you’re not trying to travel on weekend days like your Spring Break brethren. Monday to Monday or Tuesday to Tuesday fares will almost always be better. And if a school schedule isn’t determining when you vacation this spring, you will likely save money by going at the beginning of March or April rather than the middle of either month.
  • Use Online Tools. You can monitor your airfares and get notices when they drop on a certain route from a number of different online services. Bing’s Price Predictor shows you whether airfares on your chosen route and dates are rising or falling, to help you decide when to buy.
  • Be Aware of Hidden Fees. Be sure you know what you will be charged for checked baggage, overweight luggage, aisle or exit row seats before you hit the airport.

Bing is giving away five $100 travel stipends for 2011 spring break travel on Twitter. To enter, tweet @fareologist with where you’d like to go for spring break. Check out the contest’s official rules before entering.

[Image credit: Flickr user Dawn Huczek]

Cheap tickets still exist, despite airfare inflation

cheap tickets, airfare inflationIs it really getting more expensive to fly? Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation revealed that ticket prices were up 13.1 percent year over year for the second quarter of 2010, a stunning increase – though tempered by the fact that fares actually fell 13 percent year over year from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. If nothing else, this does raise concerns about whether we won’t have access to cheap tickets for a while.

With some strength coming back to the travel market, it’s easy to speculate that rates will continue to rise, especially if business travelers come back into airports in force. And when you look at the history of airfares over the past decade and a half, it’s easy to see why. Despite grumblings in the industry that flying is getting cheaper, average fares have climbed 14.8 percent cumulatively from 1995 to 2010, with 2010’s average domestic fare of $341 approaching the 2008 peak for this period of $346.


But, there’s a silver lining. There’s still enough market inefficiency to make deals possible, and the rising strength of intermediaries (i.e., online travel agencies) means that you should be able to score some great fares next year. As the battle for brand recognition as a way to access consumer wallets heats up, look for competition to put some pressure on the economic drivers that push fares higher.

I’ve heard from Bill Miller, Sr. VP of Strategic Partnerships at CheapOair that average ticket price (base fare only) fell 0.3 percent year over year for domestic flights and climbed 0.2 percent year over year for international flights. Effectively, this translates to no change while the underlying carriers are pushing fares higher.

Miller tells me, “At CheapoAir we work hard to keep airfare prices low for our customers. Year-over-year, airline ticket prices that customers buy from us have actually decreased very slightly. And, our international airfare prices have gone up very slightly. We will continue to focus on finding low airfares for our customers as that is what is important to them.”

So, while fares are still at close to their highest levels since 1995, it doesn’t mean there’s reason to give up hope. Combine the fact that you can still find bargains with the increase in purchasing power that accompanies an economic recovery, and you’re in better shape than you think.

Time to get out on the road!

[photo by AMagill via Flickr]

Kayak Explore: cheap airline tickets based on your budget

A neat new online tool from travel firm Kayak tells you where you can fly, based upon your available budget. Simply pop your departure airport into Kayak Explore, tell it how much you can spend, and when you want to fly – and the service will deliver a map of the world with little pins showing how much it’ll cost to fly there.

The site gathers its data from the millions of airfare combinations Kayak monitors, and allows you to find real bargains. Of course, with a tool like this, you can also find ways to maximize your mileage account, finding the furthest destination with the lowest price. Search filters even allow you to pick activities, spoken languages, and the average daily temperature.

The one thing the tool won’t do is tell you exactly when that fare can be found – the fare displayed is merely the lowest within a general time frame. Once you’ve found a cheap destination, you can enter your dates and head to the main Kayak search pages. You’ll find Kayak Explore at kayak.com/explore. Happy fare hunting!

Last minute flights may be cheaper than the bus

Searching for travel deals feels like playing a game show where how to get a winning number is unclear. It’s like hunting in a jungle where the frequent hunter has the edge. Timing remains the wild card.

Being flexible and not assuming the outcomes makes the difference between snagging a deal or paying more than you feel happy paying. The one that makes you whine.

Case in point: A friend of mine bought a round-trip ticket to New York City from Columbus for $240 two weeks ago for a trip next week. He smacked his forehead when I told him I bought a ticket last Saturday for $138 total. My trip is tomorrow.

The price surprised me as well. Before buying a bus ticket, expecting Greyhound would be much cheaper since it usually is, I searched plane fares last Friday “just in case.” Surprise, surprise.

But, I also learned–again– the importance of not hesitating. I waited until Saturday to buy the ticket while ironing out life’s logistics, thus missed out on the flight I wanted. Delta’s prices had almost doubled.

Another search found the $138 price on American. The hesitation, though, means flying out at 5:40 in the morning. Blech! Still, the less than two hour plane ride is $30 cheaper than the 14 hour bus ride. Factor in the cost of the bus from LaGuardia into Grand Central Station and I’m still $8 ahead.

While hunting for your own deal, keep the following points in mind.

  • Don’t assume you know prices before you check. You may be surprised.
  • The more often you check prices, the more you’ll know what is a price you’re willing to pay. (This is my 6th trip to NYC since June. This is the 2nd time I’ve flown. The bus has been the best option three times and two weeks ago we drove.)
  • When you see a price you want, don’t waffle. Your life can adjust to the decision you’ve made. (The beauty of bus travel is that it’s more flexible than flying.)
  • Don’t pay too much attention to headlines that talk about the price of travel. In the travel business, so much depends upon timing. What’s true in the morning could have shifted by the afternoon. Keep looking. Hunt out every corner of options and stay flexible.
  • If you’re flying to New York City, the airport you fly into can make a difference into the cost of a flight. Pick the option that checks the price of all NYC airports. Once you know which airline has the cheapest price, book your ticket through that airline.

Good luck hunting out the best travel deal for you. It could be the bus.

How to get cheap deals for that Las Vegas trip

Depending on which part of the U.S. you live, Las Vegas can be a very cheap vacation. As a person who would not put Las Vegas on my top 10 list, I’ve been here five times, partly because it has been an inexpensive get-a-away with careful planning.

These days, with careful planning, Las Vegas can still be an affordable, doable trip, but the planning takes a bit more work because of the number of flights being cut from airlines’ schedules. In an article in the Dallas Morning News, Tom Parsons compares travel packages from Southwest Airlines, US Airways, and American Airlines and showed the price difference between them, as well as what the trips would cost if the plane tickets and hotel had been booked separately. The price difference was substantial, although in a few cases, booking separately snagged him a better deal.

The cheapest deal was on US Airways, but Parsons said to register for e-mail programs from the hotels where you would like to stay in order to receive e-mails about an upcoming deal. (He said the timing is usually two months in advance.)

Be persistent is the motto of Parson’s missive. He was able to get a cheaper room deal at the Mirage by calling the hotel directly after he found out that the room rates had dropped from the time he originally booked a reservation. He actually did this twice. The result was a $344 savings.

Here are other tips:

  • Plan your stay for days between Sunday and Thursday
  • Avoid the second week of January when conventions are plentiful and prices go up
  • He also says to be aware of cancellation policies so you don’t get stuck having to pay a higher price if the price drops later.

My advice to cut costs is to stay at a cheaper hotel, eat at cheaper places most of the time based on which casinos are giving out meal deals, and then use the extra money to take in a show, but only consider the ones that are offering discounts. Make snagging the best deals part of the fun.

As Grant’s recent post on his first hand experience in Las Vegas indicates, the number of folks in Las Vegas has gone way down so hotels will be looking for you. Their need could be your gain financially. Keep an eye out.