Pricey tickets hold back leisure, but business travelers getting back on planes

The past two years have been nothing short of severe for the travel business, especially the airlines. Fortunately, it looks like luck is turning. Barney Harford, President and CEO of Orbitz Worldwide, says that the airline sector appears to be on the mend, at least for business travel. Consumers, on the other hand, aren’t buying back in as aggressively, as high fares are battling with continued economic constraints for wallet share.

The average airfare for domestic travel is up 10 percent, according to Hartford, with international fares surging 17 percent. He notes to CNBC:

“We are seeing … a moderation in the increases in air tickets that we were seeing in perhaps May and June, where we saw some really stronger increases in air tickets,” Harford went on to say. “We’re hopeful that we’ll see an increase in capacity in the airline sector, which will drive some moderation in (the price of) airline tickets.”

Nonetheless, you can still find some bargains out there, according to Hartford. Look for the best values in Caribbean destinations.

[photo by emrank 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 Happy fare hunting!

Where did all the bargain fares to Europe go?

Will this be the summer of our discontent when we search for cheap airfares to Europe? Is the party over?

In January 2009, US Air kicked off the summer selling season with tax-included fares for peak summer travel to Europe in the $500’s and $600’s but that was nothing compared to the $200 and $300 fares that appeared later in the spring and summer.

But that was last year. The winter just ending is the first time in memory that we didn’t see dead-of-winter deals to Europe. In winters past, the airlines went into panic mode, selling fares for February travel for as low as $250 or $300 round-trip including taxes, even on nonstops from New York to Paris. This winter, however, fares remained stubbornly stuck in the $600’s, $700’s and even $800’s to most destinations, although there were a few fleeting $500 bargains to such places as Dublin, Barcelona and Madrid.

Even Frankfurt, typically the cheapest gateway to the Continent, saw no amazing deals as in past winters.

So what’s going on here, and how does this bode for travel this spring and summer?

Of course, only fools dare to predict how an irrational airline industry will react, so we’ll steer clear of hard and fast prognostication. However, the bargain-less winter does not give us much hope.
But we will say this: many European governments have increased airport taxes, as outlined in this New York Times article on the subject, which reports that a $458 fare from New York to London recently came saddled with $162 in taxes and government fees.

And it may only get worse. The British government, for example, currently adds an Air Passenger Duty of £45 in economy class, but this will rise to £60 on Nov. 1, and £90 on business and first class fares, scheduled to increase to £120 on the same day.

In addition, many airlines have cut capacity and grounded jets for the duration, which will put pressure on fares. Last July, British Airways announced it would slash winter capacity by 4-5%, grounding over a dozen planes.

Adding to our misery, the weak dollar has enticed bargain-hunting Europeans to visit the U.S. Those shopping bag-toting hordes are driving up demand and fares along with it, taking seats that we were hoping to get for next to nothing.

Currently, spring and summer fares to most European destinations are running in the $900 to $1500 range, including tax. That’s still less than what we saw in summer 2008, when it wasn’t unusual to cough up $1900 and $2000 on economy class fares for peak July and August dates. Even so, we would be very surprised if at some point there isn’t a brief, hit-and-run sale on some routes. So our only advice is to sign up for fare alerts ( and jump if such a sale does come to pass.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.


Mixed bag for spring break travel

For spring breakers, the news this year is mixed. According to data from Bing Travel and Travelocity, USA Today reports, airfares are up, but hotel rates are down. The result, of course, is a variation on the adage that there’s no free lunch. You may get a deal on one part of your trip, but you’ll inevitably pay elsewhere.

Airfares, on average, are up 9 percent relative to last year, Travelocity found, with the average domestic ticket costing around $351. Hotel prices, on the other hand, are off 3 percent year-over-year, down to $156 a night. According to Bing Travel, the most expensive travel day this spring break season is March 22 – it’s also the costliest travel day between early winter and the end of April. To pick up a deal, go with Tuesday-to-Tuesday or Wednesday-to-Wednesday plans.

Despite the averages, of course, destination does make a difference. Cancun fares are up 23 percent from last year, from $346 to $427. Hotels are cheaper down there, however, falling from $220 a night to $198. The average cost of a trip for two to Cancun for seven nights ticked up slightly from last year, from $2,231 to $2,243.

Share your travel deals with friends with Yapta’s Frugal Travel Flaunts

Yapta, a website that tracks prices and helps you figure out when to book your airfare, has launched a new Facebook application called Frugal Travel Flaunts. When you find a deal on a flight and add it to “my trips”, you can choose to publish it on your Facebook page, alerting all your friends to your great find.

The idea behind the app is pretty solid. How many times have you found out about the amazing low-cost flight a friend found, but too late? Hearing that my friend spent just $300 on a round trip ticket from Chicago to London after she gets back from the trip doesn’t help me take advantage of the same deal. And likewise, I feel bad when friends ask why I didn’t share the news of my cheap fare purchase with them. The Frugal Travel Flaunts application allows you to use social media to alert your friends to good deals and helps you score your own with a few easy clicks.

Yapta will also help you get a credit if a flight you’ve already purchased drops in price. The site will alert you to the fare decrease with a link that sends you to the page on their site with credit info. You can also “flaunt” that on your Facebook page, though I see that as a less useful tool. Sharing news on killer deals is one thing, boasting about refunds is another – there’s a fine line between a flaunt and a taunt.