Favorable fares may be coming to a close

In past years, Memorial Day signaled the end of sweetheart flight prices. This year, a sinking economy stretched the deals a bit longer, but experts say the good times may be coming to a close. Remember the problems last summer, with higher prices blamed on jet fuel? Well, we could see the cost of oil work the same dismal magic this summer.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, cites recent fare increases of $10 to $20 per roundtrip as an indicator that we are the brink of an upswing. But, these are counterbalanced by new lows elsewhere. A recent survey by Travelocity shows ticket prices down 17 percent for trips between Memorial Day and Labor Day. So, buyers and sellers are locked in a silent struggle to determine how much your next vacation will cost.

With an eye out for possible deals, customers are waiting, booking their flights 86 days ahead instead of the usual 90. While this doesn’t seem like much, it takes a lot of last minute purchases to bring the average down.

Even if airline fares are coming back, you can still take advantage of the lows now. If you’re thinking about taking a vacation, stop … and take action instead.

Airlines are slowing down to save on fuel costs

How much can an airline save on fuel costs just flying a little slower?

JetBlue reckons that by adding two minutes to each of its flights, it saves $13.6 million a year. Southwest is now extending most flights from 1 to 3 minutes, and says it will save more than $40 million. Northwest says it saved about $530 by flying 532 mph instead of 542 mph on one recent Paris-Minneapolis flight (that added eight minutes to the journey).

The Associated Press mentions these figures in a piece about how some carriers are choosing to go it a little slower in this era of insane fuel costs. With jet fuel prices up some 73 percent, to $3.54 a gallon, adding a few extra minutes to normal flight schedules is just one of the ways airlines are coping, along with levying higher fuel surcharges and, of course, increasing fare prices.

United is looking at special software to help pilots choose better routes and speeds and says the software could save the company $20 million a year.

Not all airlines say they have adopted a slowdown approach in order to save on fuel costs. American Airlines, for instance, says it wants to maintain the integrity of its schedules, whatever that means.

It doesn’t seem that customers mind too much. Many are surprised to find out that their flight was a tad longer, and they usually agree that a few minutes is not really that big of a deal. Besides, these slight increases in flight times are built into the advertised schedule, along with taxi time and the like, so we probably wouldn’t know it anyway.