Starting Aug. 20, many airlines will slash fares on their cheapest domestic seats by 10% to 20%, says Rick Seaney of the price-tracking site, FareCompare.com.
Carriers normally cut fares once the kids head back to school. But this year, Seaney says, the deals are coming sooner as airlines try to woo fliers who may be reluctant to travel while the economy is still struggling.
“When an airline fires out a sale, it’s probing its competition and it’s probing the appetite of consumers,” Seaney says. “They’ll do the sale, evaluate it, and figure out what they need to do for their pricing strategy.”
When fliers began returning to the air following the recession-fueled travel slump that ran into 2010, airlines aggressively tried to charge more for tickets.
They attempted raising prices 22 times in 2011 and six times in the first three months of this year, Seaney says. Fliers this summer saw fares that were roughly 8% higher on average than last year.
The airlines now appear to be backing down. They’ll be removing the travel surcharges they tack onto summer fares a little earlier this year and are offering deals for longer periods. A fare sale ending Friday, for instance, will have lasted 10 days, Seaney says.
“That tells me they feel like they’ve wrung about as much coin out of the consumers as they can,” Seaney says of the slowed-down fare hikes. The airlines are “probably a little bit jittery about the economy.”
But George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com says earlier-than-usual fare cuts may have more to do with shifting school calendars than worries about skittish fliers.
“I think that as more schools start earlier and earlier, the airlines are responding by lowering fares,” Hobica says. “It’s all about kids going back to school.”