13/10/2008 – Book Early For The Best Prices? : Maybe Not The Best Idea
This morning Mike Coombes, the Deputy Chief Executive of British regional carrier Air Southwest began urging flyers to book early for the best possible airfares. Coombes’ urging came with the release of Air Southwest‘s 2009 summer flight schedule, and Air Southwest’s prediction that British travels with choose to take their holiday vacations domestically next summer.
I understand Coombes’ desire to have passengers purchase their flights now. Air Southwests’ fares are fairly straightforward and simple. The further out you purchase your ticket the better chance you have for picking up a good airfare. The cash in the door ‘now’ from future flyers will help fund the airline immediately.
While purchasing your flights so far in the future may seem like a good idea to pick up the lowest airfares, however it may not be that good if you are unsure of the airline’s financial future. While Air Southwest looks like it will survive financially through the year into the summer of 2009, I prefer to not book my flights so far in the future.
I don’t expect most travelers to stop and read an airlines’ financial news, cruise the forums on FlyerTalk or follow the headlines on Air Transport World‘s web site. However with airlines ceasing operations in record numbers, booking flights 60 days out may be a more cautious plan for vacation planning.
The airline industry is currently volatile on a global level. I have watched some airlines crumble for a long time; predicted the catastrophic failure of a Nation’s flag carrier only to watch it survive; and seen airlines cease operations that I thought would be able to continue to fly. With the knowledge that I can be left out in the cold I generally purchase my seats 30-45 days away from the date of travel for the best fares. More often than not the lowest fares are available in the time frame.
I don’t discourage travelers from flying. In fact I strongly encourage travelers to fly. I also encourage travelers to use well thought out travel plans.
When I was a kid my family flew from New York’s JFK to Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Int’l Airport every February to visit my Grandmother. Almost every year we flew on Delta Airlines (occasionally on National Airlines and Eastern Airlines…..and where are they now?). Often within a few days of return from our annual trip to Grandma my Mom would pick up the phone and book our flights for the next year. The flights on the JFK-FLL route rarely changed, the aircraft was a Lockheed L-1011 every year, so booking flights and choosing the seat selection was a safe bet.
Currently most airlines load their inventory no longer than 330 days from the date of departure, so my Mom could have never come home and booked next year’s flights the way she did when I was growing up.
The fact that airlines are dropping like flies is why I mentioned that as a kid we sometimes flew National Airlines and Eastern Airlines. My Mom was lucky she chose to book with Delta Airlines so far in advance, year after year. Delta Airlines has remained constant while National Airlines and Eastern Airlines are no longer flying (in fact, National Airlines merged with commercial airline Goliath Pan Am, and Pan Am folded on the 4th of December 1991……selling most of its operations to Delta Airlines)
Given the current instability of the airline industry is it wise to book your flights 8-to-10 months in advance? I’d strongly advise against it…………….unless you’re booking your flights on Delta Airlines, which is about to merge with Northwest Airlines and create the single largest airline on the planet.