Attention, airfare shoppers.
Never let a news story about domestic airfares being 40% more expensive than just a few weeks ago and the expectation that they’ll climb even more scare you into hurrying your purchase.
Yes, it’s true a travel booking site shared its Consumer Airfare Index Report on April 1 that showed fares are 40% more expensive than there were at the beginning of the year. Moreover, fares are expected to rise another 10% through May. The media ran with that story, and failed to consider some other important factors involving the ticket you’ll purchase.
The biggest is that the Hopper report focuses on averages, as it must. It didn’t say every trip is 40% more expensive. Some trips are 50% or 60% more expensive, and some are cheaper. In short, there are still good fares out there, but maybe fewer of them.
Second, the news media didn’t give attention to what 40% actually means. The average is 40% more than it was in January, but it’s only 7% more expensive than the average in 2019. Guess what? A story about a 7% increase over three years doesn’t get as many clicks as one about a 40% increase in three months. And Hopper really did highlight the 40% in its airfare report.
Regardless of whether they rose 40% or 7%, that doesn’t mean the ticket you purchase has to be either one. It’s possible to find great fares from Northwest Arkansas National Airport when you make your leisure trips this summer.
Here’s our guidance on things to do and to avoid when buying seats on a plane.
Flexibility is your friend
If an airfare shopper decides to fly to a certain city from XNA on an exact day before ever checking the price, the likelihood of a high fare is more than it is for a traveler with maximum flexibility.
If the planning starts with a more general decision (“I’d like to go to a beach” or “I’d like to go to the mountains,” for example), that’s easy to work with. If you don’t care whether the trip is in June, July or August, that helps, too.
Here’s an example, and we’ll focus on the Florida beaches.
Google Flights shows roundtrip flights in June to Destin ($161 on Allegiant Air), Tampa ($180 on Breeze Airways) and Fort Lauderdale ($136 on Allegiant) are affordable. But if you want to fly on June 14 and come home on June 21 to Panama Beach, the best price you’ll find is a $428 roundtrip to on Delta Air Lines.
Only your airport matters
The Hopper research showed the average domestic roundtrip is up to $330 nationwide, but no one who’s flown from XNA over the years would be wowed by such a small dollar figure. After all, the average roundtrip fare at XNA used to be over $500 and it stayed that way year after year.
In the past two years, XNA fares have been far better. That can be credited to the competition created by low-cost carriers Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Breeze Airways. The pandemic that made if difficult for airlines to fill their seats because people avoided travel certainly kept fares lower as well.
The XNA average for a domestic roundtrip in the most recent 12-month period (Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021) was $358. Remember that 40% higher and 7% higher stuff Hopper talked about? While it’s far from an apples-to-apples comparison, the $358 at XNA is 27% less expensive than the average between October 2018 and September 2019.
That said, remember you don’t care about averages for this exercise. All that matters is the fare on the day you make your purchase to the place you want to go.
Timing it right
Hopper undoubtedly has great data, but only that company, its competitors and the airlines know what’s happening right now in great detail because they can see by the minute what customers are buying.
Outsiders like us must rely on what Hopper makes public and the federal data, and the federal information gets outdated super fast. When so many leisure travelers who’ve been pent up due to the pandemic decide they are ready to travel, that outdated information becomes even less valuable to the person buying an airline ticket.
There’s at least one more thing, though, that an airfare buyer can do to cut costs, and that’s time the purchase right.
A survey by Cheapair.com last year suggested the right time is 64 days in advance of travel, but guess what? That’s an average, too. There are so many factors at play.
An airline that sees its 100-seat plane has just 32 passengers and it’s just 14 days before it’s due to take off may decide to slash the fare a bunch to help fill the plane. A different airline with 32 passengers on its plane, meanwhile, might choose to wait another few days before reducing the airfare.
It’s also helpful, at times, to pay attention to what your favorite airlines do by looking at a calendar grid of their prices for an entire month at a time. That’s pretty easy to do on the websites of United Airlines, Breeze Airways and Allegiant Air. It’s possible but more difficult on the websites of American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Delta Air Lines.