Flying the frugal skies


Wait. You don't have to ship yourself in a crate to save on airfare. Image: saeru/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Business and personal air travel is up, in spite of higher fares. By shopping around and not being a slave to package deals, a frugal traveler can save big. Meanwhile, airlines say they are forced to keep fares high because of federal demands. In response, they are taking a “too big to fail” attitude with Congress.

Air fare on the rise

Airfares are on the rise again. According to Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, travel costs were at their height in 2007, before dropping off. They started coming back up again in 2010, and have been increasing steadily each year. This year, Hanson expects travel prices to rise by four to six percent.

In the light of escalating air fare, many travelers are getting smart about how they plan their trips. By thinking outside of the package deal-box, combining destinations and taking advantage of sales and perks, many travelers are flying while nurturing their pocketbooks. However, finding these savings does require a great deal of cyber-legwork.

More travelers going one-way

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that, in 2011, one-third of all airline travelers eschewed round-trip tickets and pre-packaged itineraries in favor of their own custom plans. In 2002, only 19 percent of travelers used non-traditional itineraries.

Restricted vs. unrestricted

Getting the best deal requires understand restricted and unrestricted fares. Unrestricted fares give a great deal of flexibility, but cost significantly more. If last minute changes are a big possibility, it may be worth the extra cost to save big fees.

Restricted fares save a lot of money, but you’d better be sure you book the flight you want to get. Often these tickets need to be booked well in advance, and if they allow any changes or cancellation at all, the privilege comes with a large fee.

In 2011, according to the Motley Fool, American Airlines charged nearly $500,000 in fees to change or cancel reservations. Delta charged $766,000. Alaskan Airlines, at the bottom of the scale, charged nearly $11,000.

Airlines collectively cry fowl

Airlines say these and other fees have become a necessity with the increased regulation and taxation hurdles placed in front of them by federal regulators. Thursday, the airline industry fought back, telling Congress it is too important to the nation’s economy to be regulated and taxed out of business.

Douglas Lavin, North American VP of the International Air Transport Association, said:

“We need government to stop looking at us as a cash cow and look at us as an economic engine … We will be very aggressive here in getting this message out to regulators and members of Congress.”

The strong words followed a May 22 Senate Appropriations subcommittee vote to raise the security fee on airfare to $5 per ticket. That move was opposed by House Republicans.


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