Airfares to many popular destinations have recently fallen to their lowest levels in months, and even leisure travel is far cheaper than last year, providing a welcome relief to consumers who have been frustrated for months by high prices for goods and services of all kinds .
The flurry of deals suggests that the airline industry’s accelerated recovery from the pandemic may finally be slowing as ticket supply catches up and on some routes outstrips demand, which appears relatively robust.
Consider the rates recently achieved by Denise Diorio, a retired teacher in Tampa, Florida. She spent less than $40 on flights to and from Chicago and paid just $230 for a round-trip ticket from New York to Paris and back, a trip she plans to take this month.
“I told all my friends, ‘If you want to go somewhere, get your tickets now,’” she said.
The bargains she found may be extraordinary, but Ms. Diorio is right that bargains abound.
Earlier this month, the average price for a domestic flight around Thanksgiving was down about 9 percent compared to last year. And flights around Christmas were around 18 percent cheaper, according to Hopper, a booking and price tracking app. Kayak, the travel search engine, looked at a wider range of data surrounding the holidays and found that domestic flight prices fell about 18 percent around Thanksgiving and 23 percent around Christmas.
“In many cases, following the shutdown in 2020, we are experiencing some of the lowest fares we have ever seen since travel began,” said Kyle Potter, editor-in-chief of Thrifty Traveler, a travel blog and deal-watching service.
Domestic ticket prices have fallen over the summer, Potter said, and offers for international travel, particularly to Europe, have become more common recently.
Airlines lower their fares as they try to get more people to book tickets as demand slows or they face increased competition. There’s no question that competition has intensified on some routes, but travel experts say it’s not clear whether demand is waning.
Thanksgiving is expected to set a record for air travel this year with nearly 30 million passengers expected, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. That would be around 9 percent more than in the previous year and 6 percent more than in 2019, i.e. before the pandemic.
But some airlines say demand slows outside of holiday and other peak travel periods. Additionally, some airports have been so flooded with flights that airlines have been forced to cut prices to fill planes.
That hadn’t been a major problem during most of the recovery from the pandemic. Weather and other disruptions limited the availability of flights last year and in 2021, as did shortages of trained pilots, spare parts and aircraft, among other things. This drove up ticket prices, kept planes full and helped airlines make big profits.
Thanksgiving is expected to set a record for air travel this year, with nearly 30 million passengers expected. Photo credit: Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
“The airline industry has never seen profit margins and returns on capital as high as they have in the last 2.5 years,” said John Grant, principal analyst at OAG, an aviation consulting and data firm. “We are returning to a more normal industry.”
The good times continue for the largest U.S. airlines, thanks in particular to burgeoning demand for international travel. But smaller and low-cost airlines have started to suffer. Several reported disappointing financial results for the three months ended in September. Executives at those airlines said demand was weakening, fares were falling and costs remained high. They also say bad weather and a lack of air traffic controllers have made flying difficult.
JetBlue Airways, for example, lost $153 million in the third quarter, compared to a profit of $57 million in the same period last year. The company recently said it was shifting flights away from crowded markets like New York to markets where it expects stronger performance, such as the Caribbean. Low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines recently told investors they plan to cut costs by tens of millions of dollars.
Competition was fierce in some key markets, resulting in falling prices and profits.
In Denver, where Frontier is based, there were about 14 percent more seats available on flights this summer than in summer 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider. Miami and Orlando, Florida, two popular destinations served by many low-cost airlines, recorded even greater capacity increases.
But while airlines added flights to popular markets in pursuit of passengers, airports in other cities, including Los Angeles, a hub for several major airlines, experienced sharp drops in capacity starting in the summer of 2019.
“You’ll find that there’s a big correlation between the airlines that are doing well and those that are struggling on margins when you compare where their concentrations are,” Frontier Chief Executive Barry Biffle said last month on a conference call to discuss the airline’s third-quarter results.
For international routes, analysts are less sure why fares are falling and whether they will stay low. The kind of offers Ms. Diorio received for her Paris trip could mean that larger airlines are about to face financial constraints or simply that the industry is returning to pre-pandemic normality.
“Historically, demand for Europe declines in the winter,” said Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak. “So I think that reflects normal trends.”
But demand for international travel could face challenges, including due to wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. Analysts also warn that many consumers may be less willing or able to spend while traveling than in recent years, when they were able to draw on savings from the pandemic. Even if demand remains strong, airlines risk offering too many seats on popular overseas routes.
Whatever the cause of the recent price drop, the deals are a welcome relief for travelers from years of high prices, Potter said.
“One way or another, the recipe for cheap flights is there,” he said. “If it’s just a little bit of overcapacity, that’s a win for consumers. In some ways, if travel demand drops, that’s an even bigger win for people who will never give up traveling.”
Source : www.nytimes.com