Unstable Airfares & The Need To Travel : Are There Options?

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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.

Happy Flying!

Comments

  1. Right now my partner and I have been sitting in SFO since 11:30 am for a 1:20 pm flight which has been delayed till 8:30 which will get us to Phil at about 4 am. Fortunately we just had engagement portraits to contend with. How in the world do you book a wedding in SF one day and expect to get to another wedding in Phil the next day and avoid potential delay disasters such as this? What would you do if you were stranded on the west coast and expected to shoot on the east coast the next day? Not to mention the baggage stuff to contend with.

  2. Marjorie,

    What I do is based heavily on both statistics and on having “escape routes.” I plan for disaster. There are a lot of factors to how I book my flights. There are times of the year I won’t do “close jobs,” I avoid certain airports, I avoid certain specific routes, I’ll only do it west-to-east for logical reasons. I have done my homework. To lessen the risk of problems I also travel with carry-on only. Not checking bags gives me options.

    For the July 4th travel is my 10:00pm non-stop is delayed, I can fly at 10:15pm via PIT, 10:35pm via ORD (which I’d try and avoid) , 10:35pm as a non-stop, or 12:15am via MSP. Anyone of these potential options gets me into PHL in time to shoot my July 5 wedding.

    The key is this….start checking your flights as soon as possible. I start monitoring my flight generally 2 hours prior to departure. I start using certain online sites to track the status of the in-bound flights and make sure everything is on-track. About 45min prior to departure if I start seeing serious delays I start calling the airline to change my flight. I don’t wait for the overhead announcement, I don’t wait for the rush to the counter. Counter/Gate agents have limited options in front of them, the people on the phone don’t have a planeload of passengers yelling at them, so they tend to be more relaxed. I have all my escape options in front of me, and start going down the list.

    Knowing your options, knowing the code-share flight numbers as options, helps quite a bit. Have a “drop-dead-last-resort” is also handy when you absolutely have to get to work and “oops” is not an option.

    I also know not to play so close to the time-line in the winter. The winter is risky. I never play my schedule close to the line when flying through Chicago O’Hare, that is reckless. For winter flights I avoid Denver like the plague.

    You’re obviously departing on US Airways (US) Flight 728, which today is delayed by 420minutes. Statistically this flight ranks 3.5 out of 5 for departing delayed, this is a “high” rating of delayed departure based on the last few months of flight. While US Airways does currently rank #1 in on-time arrivals, certain flights are still consistently delayed and this is one of them.

    As I write this you have been in flight 14 minutes, traveling at 479kts, with 5hrs 2min left, and traveled 43 miles, with 2,474 miles to go, so you won’t read this until the morning….however checking this kind of data is second nature to me. By knowing all the stats, along with all my escape options I can make very educated decisions on choosing my flights and knowing if taking a job is a viable option for both myself and my clients.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  3. Far out response!! Much to learn here and like what you have said. Your advice is being taken seriously since we have a situation like this the weekend of 9/13. Thanks muchly! Marjorie Amon

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