Buffalo's Early News and WBEN.com take a look at airfares heading into the busy travel season
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Buffalo, NY (WBEN) A travel expert says despite the hikes at left, if you're in the mood to fly some friendly skies, now's the time to do it as fares are low.
"We're in what's known as the shoulder season," says Chris McGinnis, who explains it as the lull between the summer and the holidays.
He says airfares are coming down, and he cites spots south and west.
"Florida, round trip to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, is about $200-250. If you want to go to Puerto Rico, it's about $270 round trip," says McGinnis. "Out west, Las Vegas is about $250 round trip and Phoenix is about $240." He says those prices triple or quadruple when the holiday season kicks in.
The best advice is to shop around to get the best deal he says
Led by Southwest Airlines, several airlines are raising prices again.
Southwest raised fares last Wednesday by $10 per round trip on about 10 percent of its routes. United Airlines expanded the increase later in the day to cover most of its U.S. flights.
"We raised fares to cover the increasing cost of doing business," United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said Thursday.
Delta Air Lines said it matched United's price hike. American Airlines said that it raised prices on some routes, US Airways and JetBlue Airways said they matched Southwest's increase, and Virgin America eventually matched the broader United increase.
There have been four broad fare increases by U.S. airlines this year, about half as many as last year, and none in about a month. A Delta-led attempt to raise prices failed last week, a sign that airlines could be worried about filling seats in a sluggish economy.
J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker, who tracks airfares, said there was "a somewhat higher probability" that the latest Southwest-United increase will stick.
Southwest carries more passengers than any airline within the U.S. and is by far the largest carrier at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Fare increases often stick or fail depending on whether Southwest goes along. Baker said United might have been emboldened to raise prices broadly by the more limited Southwest increase.
While airlines raise fares, they also constantly run sales that undercut the impact of higher base prices. American, for example, told customers Wednesday that it was offering a two-day sale on flights to some U.S. cities.
This year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 22 which is just a little more than 10 weeks away. That means it’s time for some to begin shopping for airline tickets, according to airfare analyst Rick Seaney – for the rest of us, he says, it’s time to start making plans. Where do you fit in?
Shop Now, Here’s What to Pay“If you want to lock in the most convenient dates and times for your trip,” said Seaney, “now is the time to shop.” Otherwise, he said, wait a week. That’s when Thanksgiving flights will begin getting a little cheaper.
Prices vary widely depending on flight routes but Seaney provides the following general rule-of-thumb for ticket prices:
When to Fly for Cheapest TicketsDuring the Thanksgiving travel period, there are a couple of sweet spots. Cheapest days to fly:
No ‘Cheap’ AirfaresDo not expect to find cheap flights. Airlines know this is when folks want to fly – the busiest travel season of the year – so the airlines are poised to cash in. “Right now,” said Seaney, “Thanksgiving week airfares are garnering a 50 percent to 70 percent premium compared to fares on the same days on the following week, and this is typical of holiday pricing.”
Again, early birds who want to lock up convenient days and times to fly should start shopping this week; otherwise, begin next week but don’t wait much longer. Seaney said he does not expect to see last-minute bargains this year.
Thanksgiving Tickets: More Expensive This YearFlights during Thanksgiving week will be slightly higher than last year, said Seaney, who blames this on a handful of domestic airfare hikes earlier this year, as well as the airlines’ assumption that demand will be high.
Some airlines are making travelers work harder to find a deal.Carriers are offering more deals to passengers who book flights directly on their websites.
While travelers save money, they also must do without the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Frontier Airlines is the latest carrier to jump into the fight, announcing last week that it will penalize passengers who don't book directly with the airline. Those fliers won't be able to get seat assignments until check-in. And they'll pay more in fees while earning half as many frequent flier miles.
"Particularly for families, it provides an incentive to book directly," said Daniel Shurz, Frontier's senior vice president, commercial. "There is no logical reason for our customers to want to book anywhere else."
Contracts with the online travel agencies prohibit airlines from offering lower fares on their sites. Instead, airlines such as JetBlue Airways Corp., Spirit Airlines Inc. and Virgin America often provide discount codes in emails to their frequent fliers or through Facebook and Twitter.
The savings for booking directly can be significant.
The airlines face a delicate balance. The online travel agencies account for the lion's share of ticket sales. But the airlines want to trim the fees that eat into their profit margins.
Besides the discounts, the airlines say their sites offer passengers a better experience, providing up-to-date seat maps, details about in-flight entertainment and more seamless booking.
Henry Harteveldt, co-founder Atmosphere Research Group, said the airlines and travel sites have "a very, very dysfunctional business relationship." The travel sites treat all flights equally. Price is the only differentiator.
"The online travel agencies either won't or can't talk about how an airline might have Wi-Fi on a plane or extra legroom seats available," he said.
He said online travel agencies can save travelers hassle and money by creating packages that include hotel rooms and car rentals.
That means travelers have to search both southwest.com and then elsewhere to compare fares. Southwest hopes fliers will never make it to another site.
"We think we can have better control over the customer experience by dealing directly with them," said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz.
Most of the big carriers have remained quiet. American Airlines, part of AMR Corp., was the exception. In December 2010, American cut off Orbitz Worldwide, Inc. from displaying its fares and selling its tickets to protest the commissions and the failure to displays extras like seat upgrades.
Frontier, part of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is making its changes specifically to cut the commissions.
A four-segment itinerary - say a roundtrip flight from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Phoenix connecting in Denver each way - booked directly through Frontier costs the airline $1.60 to process. That same itinerary booked through an online travel agent costs Frontier $20 to $26, depending on which website the ticket is booked on, according to Shurz.
Those commissions add up: Shurz said Frontier spends about $55 million to 60 million annually on distribution fees. In the first half of 2012, 42 percent of Frontier's $713 million in revenue came through tickets sold directly with the airline.
Frontier's customers have a big incentive to book directly.
Only those going through the airline's website will get to pick their seats in advance. Travelers booking through third-party websites will only get half the frequent flier miles. Fees for changing itineraries, going standby, traveling as an unaccompanied minor or bringing a pet onboard will be $50 higher for those booking elsewhere.
Frontier is a low-cost carrier based in Denver. It flies to 80 destinations in the United States, many smaller cities, as well as leisure destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Through August, it carried 9.1 million passengers. In that same period, United Continental Holdings Inc. carried 96.1 million passengers.
In a related move to increase loyalty, Frontier is lowering the amount of frequent flier miles needed for a free flight by 5,000. The airline also changed its website URL to flyfrontier.com.
About the only thing not changing are baggage fees: They will remain $20 for each of the first two checked bags regardless of where you buy a ticket.
Be Prepared To Wait......More than You Ever Have
NEW YORK (AP) -- The number of long delays in July involving planes stuck on airport tarmacs was more than the previous eight months combined, the government said Monday.
Twenty eight planes were stuck on the ground at U.S. airports for more than three hours that month, the height of the summer travel season. Eighteen of those planes were operated by U.S. carriers.
Sixteen of the U.S. flights were going in or out of Chicago O'Hare on July 13, a day of severe thunderstorms. All of the longest delays were on regional carriers that operate smaller jets for larger airlines.
There was only one international flight that sat on the ground for more than four hours, and it's susceptible to a big fine. Caribbean Airlines flight 526 from Georgetown, Guyana to New York's JFK Airport sat on the ground for four hours and three minutes. U.S. and international airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger if a flight is stuck for more than three hours.
The last time there were more three hour delays in a single month was October 2011. There was just one long delay last July.
Overall, flights were less on-time in July than they were in both June 2012 and July 2011. United Airlines, which has a base in Chicago, had the worst on-time rate. US Airways had the best on-time rate for a network carrier, but Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines topped the overall list.
As more flights were stuck and passengers grew frustrated, they complained much more. The Department of Transportation received just under 2,500 complaints in July, almost double a year earlier and up 50 percent from June.
They also had more reason to complain about lost or damaged bags. The mishandled baggage rate fell from a year earlier but was up from June.
Will American Pilots and Mechanics Strike?
American Airlines is sending layoff warning notices to more than 11,000 employees although a spokesman says the company expects job losses to be closer to 4,400.
The notices went out to mechanics and ground workers whose jobs will be affected as American goes through a bankruptcy restructuring.
American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks said Tuesday that fewer than 40 percent of those getting notices will lose their jobs. Hicks said federal law requires the company to notify anyone whose position could change, including those who could get "bumped" by more-senior employees whose jobs are eliminated or outsourced.
American said in February that it planned to cut 14,000 jobs, including 13,000 held by union workers. But if Hicks is right, the final job losses will be about a third of that.
Over the summer American accepted slightly smaller cost-cutting measures as it negotiated new labor contracts, and it agreed to give bonuses to flight attendants and ground workers who quit. So far 1,800 flight attendants and 800 ground workers have applied to take the money and leave.
Layoff notices went to nearly 3,000 workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where a maintenance facility will close, and nearly 3,000 more at a base in Tulsa, Okla. Also receiving notices were about 1,200 workers in Miami, 1,100 in New York and Newark, N.J., 900 in Chicago, and smaller numbers elsewhere.
"As bad as this is - and we knew this day was coming - we've been able to lessen the pain," said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the Transport Workers Union.
Separately, the leader of the pilots' union blasted the company, saying it is "paying lip service" to negotiating a contract while using the bankruptcy process to wring punitive cost-cutting concessions from pilots.
Eight other labor groups approved long-term contracts that will help AMR cut annual labor spending by about $1 billion. Pilots, however, voted overwhelmingly against the company's last contract offer, and a federal bankruptcy judge allowed American to impose new pay and working rules on pilots.
The acting president of the Allied Pilots Association, Keith Wilson, said in a message to members that he would meet this week with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other senior officials in the Obama administration and Congress. The union has asked federal officials to approve steps that could eventually lead to a strike, but that permission hasn't been granted.
Hicks said American is ready to resume negotiations "when the union is ready."
Still, pilots are holding a strike-authorization vote. And according to the company, they are calling in sick more often than usual, contributing to an increase in canceled flights. American has trimmed its September and October schedule by up to 2 percent to make sure it has enough pilots to operate flights.
Hunter Keay, an analyst for Wolfe Trahan & Co., said he does not think the threat of cancelations will lead travelers to avoid American. But he said there has been "a clear deterioration in labor relations" at American.
An American merger with US Airways Group Inc. could produce a bigger airline with more revenue and more labor peace, Keay said. US Airways has lobbied for a merger but American executives have been reluctant.
American and parent AMR Corp., which is based in Fort Worth, filed for bankruptcy protection in November.