Consumers reading the latest headlines about airfares skyrocketing—due to a combination of heightened demand for travel as pandemic concerns ease and rising fuel costs—might assume that they’ve lost their chance to grab a good deal on flights this year.
They aren’t wrong to worry. Booking app Hopper predicts that domestic airfares will average $360 round-trip by May, up from $235 at the start of 2022. International tickets will top out at $940 on average in June, up from $650 in January, Hopper says. And jet fuel prices, the airlines’ second highest expense after labor, are likely to stay high due to the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on energy supplies. Consequently, Delta Air Lines recently said that U.S. flights would be about $30 to $40 higher round-trip by June.
But air pricing experts say it’s not too late to find a bargain on air travel, especially if you can be flexible on dates and destinations. The reason is that people are eager to travel again, and airlines that jack up their rates too high risk losing price-sensitive customers.
Destinations with good flight deals
“We’re seeing that travel providers are continuing to support the return of travel with competitive fares,” says Naomi Hahn, vice president of strategy for booking site Skyscanner. Some prime leisure travel destinations have actually seen prices drop this year compared to prepandemic levels, according to the latest search data from Skyscanner, including Honolulu, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iceland and Portugal in Europe. A major influence is the number of competitors on a particular route and whether there’s a low-cost carrier in the mix.
When and how to find a good flight deal
Most experts agree that booking at least four weeks in advance—ideally six to eight weeks before travel—is key to getting a better deal and could save travelers as much as 51 percent, especially if they use the calendar search feature offered on numerous search sites, such as Google Flights, as well as on the airlines’ own reservations systems. This feature allows travelers to see the entire span of airfares and select dates when pricing is lowest. Often, traveling a day before or after your originally intended travel dates can get you a cheaper fare, says Hahn.
Another way to save money is with what is called a “hacker fare,” or combining two one-way flights on different carriers. “Flying out with one airline and back with another, or using different airports, can save money,” Hahn adds.
An easy and timeless bargain-hunting hack is simply signing up for a price-monitoring alert service, which is available on the Hopper app and on a number of other travel booking sites, including Kayak and Google Flights.
Follow the news
Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at flight deal tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights, recommends that international travelers keep close tabs on changing pandemic restrictions, as fares tend to drop right after a country relaxes pandemic-spurred travel restrictions.
“Whenever restrictions come down, we see airlines getting more aggressive about putting airplanes on those routes,” Orlando says. For example, after Iceland lifted all of its travel restrictions on February 25, there are now a raft of new flights between the U.S. and Iceland for this summer—and not just on major carriers like United and Icelandair but also on new budget line Play.
A similar scenario played out after the U.K. eased entry rules earlier this year, prompting a wave of new flights, including JetBlue’s recently announced Boston-London flights, which start in July and add to its existing service from New York to Heathrow and Gatwick. Bottom line, he says, “Keep your eye on the news and you’ll see fares drop.”
Low-cost carriers can help
There is also one other promising development for airline ticket pricing that could help put downward pricing pressure on airfares—the addition of several new discount carriers that have recently entered the market both for domestic and international service. Low-cost U.S. startups like Breeze and Avelo offer cheaper flights that usually undercut the going rate on major U.S. carriers.
“Typically, when a low-cost carrier enters a route, it can lower prices by upwards of 20 percent,” says Hayley Berg, head of price intelligence at Hopper. But she cautioned that “some of these airlines are starting out fairly small and we haven’t seen their influence on a national level.”
Related Two New Low-Cost Carriers Are Taking Flight in the U.S.
In Europe, new budget lines like Play and Norse Atlantic are hoping to revive the popular low-fare model of predecessors Wow and Norwegian Air, respectively. Berg says it’s no surprise they are trying to reignite the market for cheap fares to hop the pond. “Time and again, airlines have found that American consumers are willing to pay $300 for $400 to sit in a really tight seat to get across the Atlantic,” she says.
A guide to new low-cost carriers
Beginning last year, a new crop of startups has launched just in time to ride the pandemic recovery wave. But if, like us, you find it hard to keep track of who these new players are and what routes and pricing they’re offering, we figured you could use a handy list when deal hunting. One important caveat: On most of these cut-rate carriers, expect to pay extra for nearly everything, from seat selection to in-flight meals and carry-on and checked bags.
Aha! (short for “air-hotel-adventure”) is based out of Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport with typical one-way fares starting at $79. Using 50-seat Embraer ERJ regional jets, Aha! flies between more than a dozen West Coast cities in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, including Tahoe, Palm Springs, Ontario (east of Los Angeles), Fresno (south of Yosemite) in California; Eugene, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington.
Avelo launched in Burbank, California, and flies a fleet of 737s on both U.S. coasts. The low-cost carrier recently opened a second base in New Haven, Connecticut, serving points in Florida and other destinations like Charleston and Nashville. From Burbank, Avelo offers daily round-trip flights to Santa Rosa, in California’s Sonoma County. Additional destinations include Bozeman, Montana; Eureka and Redding in Northern California; Grand Junction, Colorado; Bend and Eugene in Oregon; and Pasco in Washington State’s wine region. Promotional fares start at $49 one-way; regular fares at $79 one-way.
The brainchild of JetBlue founder David Neeleman, Breeze Airways is expanding rapidly and now serves several cities in the eastern half of the U.S., including New York’s MacArthur Airport in Islip on Long Island; Florida’s Palm Beach; New Orleans; Norfolk, Virginia; and Charleston, South Carolina. It plans to start flying some longer routes in the near future, including coast to coast, when it adds a larger aircraft type—the Airbus A220—to its existing Embraer regional jets. One-way fares start at around $64 for the no-frills “Nice” class; for things like a free checked bag, you can upgrade to “Nicer” and “Nicest” fares.
French Bee is a low-cost carrier out of Paris’s Orly Airport whose momentum was temporarily slowed by the pandemic. But the French discount line is back with a new round of long-distance flights between France, the United States, and French Polynesia. French Bee flies between San Francisco or Los Angeles and Paris. Those flights also continue on to Tahiti. Fares between Orly and Los Angeles International Airport start at $279 one-way. Flights are aboard an Airbus A350-900, a newer version of the state-of-the-art wide-body plane.
The Spanish low-fare unit of IAG (parent of British Air, Aer Lingus, and Iberia) is launching flights to Barcelona this summer from Boston and Los Angeles and is also resuming service from New York and San Francisco. Level flights are aboard wide-body Airbus A330 planes. Round-trip fares start at $420 from New York and $631 from Los Angeles.
The reincarnation of ill-fated Wow airlines, Play is launching transatlantic flights to Iceland this month starting with Baltimore-Washington Airport to Reykjavik, followed by Boston, New York/Newburgh, and Orlando, all via narrow-body Airbus A321 jets. Once in Iceland, travelers can connect to 22 European hubs like Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris, plus smaller outposts, such as Tenerife and Bologna. For the 2022 summer season, you can find deals for one-way flights for under $200. Like Wow, Play flies all-coach, single-aisle Airbus A320 and A321 Neo aircraft.
Coming soon . . .
Remember Norwegian Air, the mother of all discount airlines across the pond? Well, stay tuned, because that airline will be back, in spirit at least, under new owners and a new name: Norse Atlantic Airways. Reportedly, it will use the same 787 Dreamliner jets on transatlantic flights that its predecessor did but will break tradition by starting out modestly, flying from a handful of (as yet unnamed) U.S. points to its hub in Oslo, where fliers can connect to airports all over the continent. The carrier has already won permission from the U.S. to start selling tickets, perhaps as early as this month, for flights slated to begin this summer.