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Airline Deals Are Getting Rare

Carol Sottili

Less than five years ago, you could fly to Europe for $298 round trip off season, including taxes. And, in 1977, I flew the now defunct Peoples Express, one of the first post-deregulation discount carriers, for $99 each way from New York to Los Angeles: I paid a similar price just last year.

Until recently, sales were a staple of the airline world, and the flexible traveler could still be amply rewarded for spending time scouring various Web sites for a deal. Lately, however, even the most diligent shopper is having a difficult time finding a wow fare.
We all know about rising jet fuel prices, etc., but now the Air Transport Association, a trade organization for leading U.S. carriers, has released some stats that may bolster the airlines' case for not offering as many deals.

According to the ATA, first-quarter 2008 costs for U.S. passenger airlines grew at the fastest pace since the second quarter of 1980, up 31.3 percent since the first quarter of 2007 (compare that to the 4.2 percent increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index). Fuel and labor saw the largest increases. And even though passenger yield (the number of seats filled) went up by 2.6 percent to 77.2 percent, airlines need to fill 83.5 percent of the their seats to break even.
Should we feel sorry for the airlines? Did constant price wars cause them to cut their own throats? Should we ever have been able to fly to England for less than $300 round trip? Does it make sense that a trip that cost $99 each way is still the same price 30 years later?

By Carol Sottili |  July 22, 2008; 6:23 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airfares , Carol Sottili
Previous: The Monday Rant: Yet Another Amtrak Derailment? | Next: Cheers to the Museum of the American Cocktail

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The best deal I ever got was in 2004 on Delta- I scored a roundtrip from Dulles to LAX for $129, taxes included. I'll never forget that one.

I'll feel sorry for the airlines when their CEOs stop getting such ridiculous compensation packages. Instead of cutting thousands of jobs, why don't they give up their raises?

Posted by: surlychick | July 22, 2008 11:14 AM

We just picked up a round trip ticket between Costa Rica and DC for about $350 last night. Europe may be pricey, but there are other options.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | July 22, 2008 11:19 AM

I flew to Japan 3 years ago for under $500, round trip. I snagged a short-term sale fare because I was flying into a new airport instead of, say, Tokyo Narita.

I don't feel sorry for the airlines yet either... maybe when they start treating customers better.

Posted by: jenn | July 22, 2008 11:21 AM

The problem is that the fares have no relationship to the actual costs. Here's a great example:

Last week I had to fly from Denver to Myrtle Beach on short notice. On Delta, the cheapest fare was $339 going through Atlanta. I could get a FF ticket on Frontier to Atlanta, so I thought I could do that and then get a flight from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach. The cheapest flight (the same exact one the Denver-MB itinerary used) was $489. So Delta essentially paid me $150 to fly them from Denver to Atlanta.

Posted by: Dennis | July 22, 2008 12:08 PM

There's no need to pity the airlines. If every airline was failing, then it would be a different story, but Southwest is still plugging along at a healthy rate (although we'll see how much longer they can keep that up). However, this example clearly shows that it IS possible to succeed in this market, and it's the incompetence of the legacy airlines' management that will be their downfall.

That said, I have gotten some killer deals lately; I'm in Seattle right now on $220 r/t tickets. I went to Costa Rica for $250 earlier this year, and $500 to Malaga last year.

Posted by: Liz | July 22, 2008 12:38 PM

Those airline deals are how they managed to get themselves into so much trouble. Finally, airfares are catching up to the true costs.

Posted by: Little Red | July 22, 2008 2:10 PM

$99 each way in 1977 sounds kind of pricey to be honest. If you adjust for inflation, that would be just about what we pay now to fly to the West Coast ($498).

That being said, I just scored a flight from DCA to Chicago for CHRISTMAS for $230. I have never paid that little for my Christmas travel, and recently, most of my flights to Chicago have been well over $300.

And as others have said, while travelling to Europe has gotten cost prohibitive, there are still other places to travel - Mexico, Central America, Canada...

Posted by: LV | July 23, 2008 9:50 AM

I'll feel sorry for the airlines when they start treating me like a human being. I'd feel a lot more comfortable shelling out $500 for a ticket if I had some sort of guarantee that I was actually going to be to get where i needed to go, when I needed to be there, without standing in lines for anywhere from 2-6+ hours and then being squashed into a seat with nothign to eat or drinnk.

Posted by: Cec | July 24, 2008 9:50 PM

If You Can't Get an Airline Deal, At Least...A super cool functionality of is the ability to contact one or many property owners and make them an offer. believes in the power of the savvy vacation shopper and shares in the philosophy that everything is negotiable, so look at last minute deals, and attempt to beat them by making an offer to the property owner. They can counter offer, or they can say no, but it sure doesn't hurt to try. Compare it to the ultra popular game show, "Let's make a deal". If you lose, oh well, but if you win, CHA CHING, money in the bank! So utilize your smarts, and make them an offer they simply can't refuse, you can thank for this functionality later. Bon Voyage!

Posted by: TravelingInStilettos | July 25, 2008 2:51 PM

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