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5/06/2008 – Unstable Airfares & The Need To Travel : Are There Options?
With the United States airline industry in turmoil, and the global airline industry trying to assess their next moves, this is a tricky time to be a business traveler.
I’m a realist, airlines are disappearing, fleets are being grounded which cuts capacity, airlines are increasing ‘code-share’ flights which cuts capacity, the price of oil is at all time global highs, and the US Dollar (US$) to which OPEC pegs it’s oil prices is losing it’s value by the day.
What does this mean for those who must fly for work? It means you need to plan your journeys with more flexibility and purchase your tickets as far in advance as possible, but with caution.
I have a wedding to document on the 4th of July in San Francisco and another wedding on he 5th of July in Philadelphia. I had priced out my travel a few times, as recently as a week ago, and airfares were hovering between $450 and $575 for my travel. In the last week alone fares on non-stop flights in the United States have nearly doubled in price on some routes. As I generally purchase my airline tickets to shoot weddings in the 21 day-to-14 day window I re-priced my flights last night and came up with fares ranging from $1127 to $1463.
I have some flexibility on when I travel to San Francisco (SFO) and when I depart Philadelphia (PHL), which is good. The problem in flexibility is that but I am absolutely locked into only two potential flights that can get me from SFO to PHL to leave wedding #1 on-time and arrive at wedding #2 on time, given that they these weddings are a 2,500 mile distance and 5hr 30min flight apart.
For those of you who shoot destination weddings, or plan your business trips far in advance, you may want to start searching fares as soon as you book your weddings, or business schedules, and start watching fares. Most airlines allow you to book flights up to 330 days from your date of travel. If you book 330 days out and your flight information is changed by the airline, such as a change in route, change in flight number, etc, the airline must adjust your travel at no fee to you. This gives you some security.
The downside to this is with airlines failing at record rates you may be stuck on anon-existent airline. There are some “safe bets” on legacy airlines that should be able to easily last the next 330 days, but in this financial climate who knows. Some large, long time, legacy airlines have vanished very rapidly in the past, much to the disbelief of their loyal flyers, including Eastern Airlines, TWA and Pan Am.
Watching the rise and fall of the airfares, and the gouging going on in some areas, which I expect to slow down and disappear at the end of the peak summer travel, my advice is this. For destination weddings, or business travel, book your tickets within 30 to 60 days of travel This is the best way to still look for lower fares, giving yourself time to check fares, watch the strength of an airline and utilize online tools that monitor the rise and fall of airfares.
Oddly enough with the cost of flights rising more than a dozen times across the board in the United States since the start of 2008, I just booked my flights to document a wedding on June 21st wedding in Minneapolis and June 22nd wedding in New York for more than $100 less than I had originally estimated and budgeted.
This summer, and the future of air travel may get worse before it gets better. There is a future out there for those who travel, but we certainly need to weather the storm before we get there.