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Air fares: as costs rise, flexibility is key

Even as inflation shows signs of easing, airfares remain high, up nearly 10% in April from the same period in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coming out of the pandemic, fewer flights, a shortage of airline workers and higher fuel costs helped push prices up. And consumers, eager to travel, have not revolted enough to convince the carriers to drop them.

But the picture can be confusing – and changing.

According to travel booking app Hopper, current domestic airfare prices are well below last year, but are expected to rise through June, when summer airfares typically peak. Hopper predicts a domestic round-trip booking will peak at $328, better than last June’s $400, but still 4% higher than the same time in 2019.

International fares, where available flights lag behind demand, are a grimmer story: Hopper expects overseas tickets this summer to hit their highest level in five years, up by 32% to Europe compared to last summer (or $1,188 on average). Flights to Asia increased by 17% (average of $1,890) compared to last summer; this is 67% more than in 2019.

What should a traveler do to avoid being fleeced? Keep an open mind.

“It’s about being flexible on one of the parameters of booking,” said Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert at Skyscanner, an airline ticket search site. “If you are flexible about when or where you want to go and even how you want to go, maybe from one airport and back to another or on another carrier, there is If you’re rigid, you’ll be locked into a more expensive fare.

When flying may be easier to adjust. Skyscanner allows users to view prices for an itinerary within a month, allowing them to find the lowest fares. Google Flights sends price alerts for the right fares on all dates on a specified route, and Kayak allows searches using flexible dates.

When it comes to where to go, consider 2023 a summer of spontaneity.

“Let the deal dictate the destination if you can,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, a personal finance website. “Too often people have a location at heart and it limits their options. If you don’t care about the beach, take the tour.

If you haven’t booked summer flights, do so now. Hopper generally recommends watching domestic fares three to four months before travel — many search engines will follow specified routes — and buying one to two months in advance. In the summer, it says the best deals are often available three to four months in advance.

Another potential money-saver, a practice called skilagging, allows travelers to book a ticket with an intermediate stop in their intended destination and then skip the last leg of their trip, which can sometimes be cheaper. than to fly directly. The Skiplagged site gathers available offers based on your preferred airport. For example, he recently reported a flight from San Francisco to Jacksonville, Florida with a layover in Miami for $134. A direct flight from San Francisco to Miami cost $158. The method, which airlines loathe, requires travelers to book outward and return tickets separately and forgo checked baggage.

You can also find airfare and hotel packages put together for less than the sum of their parts. Online travel agency Priceline said its packages save an average of $240 per booking. JetBlue Vacations, a subsidiary of the airline, said its hotel and airfare deals were better than booking separately 90% of the time. Shoppers can use the “Best Vacation Finder” tool to compare deals in a variety of beach destinations, mountain getaways and cities.

Finally, don’t overlook the points earned by stealing or spending by credit card as payment.

“It’s all the more important now,” Mr. Rossman said, noting that many consumers have stockpiled points during the pandemic, caches at risk of devaluation by airlines, which can change requirements to will, charging 60,000 points for a flight that was 50,000 yesterday. “Vendors are recovering from the pandemic and they want paying customers, not freebies.”


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