The Agony and Ecstasy of Online Flight Deals

Why they can be a problem—and how to handle your intense wanderlust after finding a $400 round-trip ticket

The Agony and Ecstasy of Online Flight Deals

Think before you book that $400 round-trip ticket to Rome.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Today, I bought a $404 round-trip ticket from New York to Rome. My Royal Air Maroc flight departs from JFK on Friday, September 29—and thank goodness, because by that time, the legendary Hotel Eden will have emerged from its renovation, new spa and all. After a couple of days exploring the Eternal City, I’ll cab it to Tivoli, some 20 miles east, and spend an afternoon roaming among the storybook gardens at the Villa d’Este. Then, it’s back to Rome to catch a six-hour train up to Parma, recently anointed by UNESCO as the world’s first “Creative City of Gastronomy,” where I’ll spend the rest of my vacation feasting on cured meats and sampling every gelato flavor at Cremeria Emilia.

Actually, that’s all a lie; I don’t plan on doing any of that. I didn’t even book the plane ticket. Blame a single headline in The Points Guy’s daily email newsletter—Deal Alert: US Cities to Italy From $404 Round-Trip—for sending my wildest imagination into a tailspin.

Seasonality, competition, the proliferation of budget airlines, and routes out of smaller regional airports (like Norwegian’s forthcoming $69 flights to the UK from Providence’s T.F. Green) are all to thank for the glut of lower fares. And it’s impossible to look away: $70 flights to Europe are here! $49 fares on Virgin America! Get to Tokyo for Just $495! NYC to Hong Kong for $541!

What does this mean for obsessive travelers keen to start planning their next trip before their current one ends? A lot of procrastinating, a lot of daydreaming, and the soul-crushing weight of a lot of trips untaken. To think of all the vacations that die the second you close a browser window.

That’s not to say the reverse isn’t also true: The barrage of airfare deals can be an inspiring jolt that encourages us to explore exciting new places and take some much-needed time off. Wanderlust is a powerful antidote to the daily grind—but it’s one thing to jump at JCrew’s 40 percent off sale and buy shoes. It’s another thing entirely to hastily book a trip like an excitable puppy. Here are five strategies for remaining smart and stolid in the face of flash flight sales:

1. Make a calendar. Most of us can’t just pick up and leave town whenever, so spell out—week by week, weekend by weekend—your existing commitments. Flight deals often are only good for a limited span of departure dates, so if you’ve got weddings to attend every weekend in May, June, and July, you probably can’t, in fact, fly to Scotland for $443.

2. Write out your wander list. Then, keep it somewhere obvious, like Apple’s Stickies desktop app. Sure, Spain for $377 sounds fun, but as much as I’d love to be back on the glistening beaches of San Sebastian, I’ve got other places in mind for 2017. (If you can’t decide where to go this year, AFAR has 100 suggestions.)

3. Keep separate lists for domestic and international destinations. New Orleans for a weekend is a lower lift—less expensive, less time out of the office, easier to parlay into a last-minute surprise getaway for a spouse or partner—than, say, a two-week trip to Hong Kong.

4. Focus on reasonable departure cities. What lengths are you willing to go to just to nab a deal? Paris for $370 is unheard of, but getting to Boston or Philly might present a logistical challenge.

5. Don’t overlook local and regional transit. Last summer, my husband and I spent 10 days driving across France and loved it, and now we’re considering another European road trip, potentially through Southeastern Italy. And getting to Bari from Rome could simply mean an hourlong jaunt on RyanAir, or a scenic six-hour train ride on TrenItalia, both for about $30. Whoops—would you excuse me for a moment? I’ve got a flight to book.

>>Next: 16 Unforgettable Places to Catch a Show

I’m a New York Times Travel columnist with a passion for why, how and when people travel.
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