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 (http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/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.


Galley Gossip: The problem with “soaring” ticket prices

Remember what airline tickets used to cost? Oh no, I’m not talking about last year, go back a little bit further, okay a lot further, like 1950 further…remember those prices? I didn’t think so.

A couple years ago I went just a wee bit crazy, spending too much time (and money) on eBay bidding on airline ads from the 1960’s and 1970’s. They were big and bright and colorful and they said things like: “fly me,” “just a working girl working,” “think of her as your mother.” They were sexy and sexist, totally wrong, and yet so right — at the time. I loved them. Still do. Had them framed. Hung them on the wall. And then, last year, tucked them away in a drawer for safe keeping (and a clutter free office). I think of one of those ads often whenever I hear people complaining about the price of airline tickets, or whenever I read articles like the one by Dan Reed in USA TODAY entitled “Airline Tickets Soar This Summer” that was featured on AOL with the caption, “Passengers Can’t Bear to Look.”

Well I’ve got something for those passengers to look at, something that may force them to rethink the definition of soaring ticket prices. I mean, soaring? Don’t you think we’re being a bit dramatic here? Especially when people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on fast food, botox, designer clothes, and even video games for the kids. Give me a break. Because the ad, the one I mentioned above from 1950, lists the price of a ticket from New York to Paris for $326. Please, can anyone tell me, what else out there costs the exact same price as it did over fifty years ago?


Yeah, I know, service in the air has gone down hill big time. You don’t have to tell me. I live it every time I put on my uniform. In fact, I spend most of my time at work apologizing because we don’t have this and we don’t have that to a flight full of miserably cramped passengers. I feel for those passengers. I really do. It’s gotten bad out there. Worse than bad. Flying, today, is just not what it used to be, for everyone involved – passengers and crew alike.

But what gets me is that thirteen years ago I worked at a no frills airline called Sunjet International Airlines. The ticket price back then was $99 to fly one way from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale, Newark, or Long Beach. That was thirteen years ago. Fuel prices were 1/3 of what they are today. Keep in mind that price was on an airline that offered pretty much nothing but a seat (a broken seat covered in duct tape), a lot of delays (I’m not talking a few hours delayed, I’m talking two-day delays), lost luggage (or no luggage at all. What do you mean you checked bags?), and a burnt chocolate chip cookie, depending on who happened to be in the galley that day. Then, in 1995, I found myself working for a major US carrier, on probation for six months without flight privileges, in the month of December. The price of a ticket from New York to Dallas was oh just $800. In Coach. Needless to say, I didn’t get make it home for Christmas that year.

Now flash forward thirteen years and you can fly nonstop on a major carrier from New York to Los Angeles for as little as $235 round trip. I’m sorry, but that’s not bad. In fact, it’s so not bad that I just bought myself a seat on that same flight (even though I’m able to fly standby for free) I challenge anyone to drive that same distance for less money. Yes, airline ticket prices are up 200% from last year, but when you realize they were down 700%, that’s still a good ticket price! So when someone writes a piece about the “soaring” ticket prices of today, I have to shake my head and think, how soon we all forget.