Lower fares and better service: Back-to-school season is the good-news season for deal-savvy flyers.
Flying may be the part of travel most prefer to forget. But fall represents the good-news season for flyers with some of the year’s lowest fares. And this fall, low-cost carriers have triggered fare wars on some routes while several legacy carriers up their economy offerings.
Industry turbulence notwithstanding, here is what you can expect in the air this fall.
Back-to-school season is a bargain for travelers as demand eases, leading to lower fares (not to mention cheaper hotel rooms). The airfare-prediction app Hopper forecasts fares will bottom out in October at $216, the average price for a domestic ticket, compared to its peak of $258 in June.
“Just after Labor Day, when everybody’s back to school, up to December 14 is a completely fabulous time to travel,” said George Hobica, the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “A real dead spot is after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.”
Among the top 10 destinations with the biggest decline in flight prices, according to Hopper: Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Key West, Florida. Internationally, Hopper predicts fares will fall 20 percent or more to Auckland, Lima, and Mexico City.
“Just after Labor Day, when everybody’s back to school, up to December 14 is a completely fabulous time to travel.”
Credit the surge of foreign low-cost carriers for the savings. Iceland-based WOW Air just announced $69 one-way fares connecting through Reykjavik to eight European cities, including Copenhagen, London, and Paris, from Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Bear in mind return flights are often considerably more—for example, a $69 September outbound from Miami to London costs $200 to return—and the airline charges additional fees on its cheapest tickets, including $55 for a carry-on bag if paid in advance and $75 for a prepaid checked bag. Prebooked seat assignments range from $8 to $190.
Legacy carriers have cut prices to stay competitive and remain relatively lax about the size of your carry-on. As usual, caveat emptor.
Elevated Economy Service
Not all economy seats—from more spacious locales up front to shoehorned-slots in steerage—are created equal. But give or take a few inches of pitch, they were similar, until premium economy landed this year.
Unlike standard economy seats, premium economy seats are closer to cushy business-class models, with adjustable leg rests, and come with amenity kits, noise-canceling headphones, and upgraded meals.
Delta Premium Select will launch on Delta’s new Airbus A350 aircraft, set to operate as of October 30 on its Detroit-Tokyo route, followed by Detroit-Seoul in November, Detroit-Beijing in January, and Atlanta-Seoul in March.
American Airlines began its Premium Economy service earlier this year on flights between Dallas and Seoul, Madrid, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo. This October, the airline will bring the service to flights between Chicago and Paris, and between Los Angeles and Auckland and Sydney. Expect it from AA hubs on many foreign routes by early 2018.
The airlines won’t say how much more they are charging for the new economy but a recent search found fares 13 to 33 percent higher for the nicer cabin.
The Department of Homeland Security rescinded its ban on large electronic devices—known as the laptop ban—from 10 airports in the Middle East and northern Africa in July, clearing the way for movie-watchers and spreadsheet geeks to fly freely. It’s not that electronics don’t still present a threat—an in-flight detonation on a Somalia carrier in 2016 is linked to a laptop—but the government says these foreign airports have adequately improved their security measures.
Passengers should expect expanded screening, however, not just of laptops but other electronics, including cameras and tablets, both abroad and at home. After testing expanded screening in 10 airports in the U.S. earlier this year, the TSA is extending the new procedures to airports across the country in the vague “weeks and months ahead,” according to the July 26 announcement. This fall, expect to be asked to place any electronic item larger than a cellphone in a separate bin as is required of laptops.
As they like to say, allow extra time at the airport.