A Turndown in Transcon Fares: Permanent or Passing?

Recently, I’ve mentioned the great deals on transatlantic flights that I’ve gotten to a few different people. Almost every time, people say “(the deal you got going to Europe) is cheaper than going to California.”

While I’ve heard those various replies, it wasn’t until recently that I started to think about what they were saying. After all, transcontinental flights have historically run well in excess of $300 round trip, particularly those to California.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at flights between Boston and Los Angeles, which has generally run cheaper than places like San Francisco, Portland, OR, or Seattle. I was quite surprised to find a number of flights not only well under $300, but closer to the $250 range.

Factors at Play

So what has spurred this recent downturn in fares?

There are a number of different things that spur these types of trends, but one of them seems to be the recent introduction of basic economy classes with American legacy carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

Though I wrote a piece about the emergence of these fare classes (a year ago to the day!), particularly United’s, one of the major goals of these programs isn’t to “give consumers choice,” as airlines would like you to believe. Rather, it’s to encourage people to pay more to get the same service that they received before.

Perhaps, then, the downturn in transcontinental fares can partly be attributed to the introduction of basic economy classes. However, it’s not just American, Delta, and United who are selling sub-$300 round trips on transcons: jetBlue and Virgin America have both slashed their prices to the point where even flights less than a month out are running in that price range.

b6-fare-bos-lax
A trip from December 6 to December 10 would cost $237, which is well below traditional norms.

This is particularly surprising, as jetBlue and Virgin America have been known to have economy transcon products that are superior to the aforementioned American legacy carriers. Moreover, neither has implemented a basic economy class (derisively called “economy minus”), so you’d think that they would still be able to charge a (relative) premium.

Looking Ahead

While these recent developments are certainly good for the average traveler looking to escape to the West Coast, this isn’t to say that transcontinental fares will stay low permanently. Additionally, while international flights are (generally) further in distance and have their own unique requirements that can drive prices up comparable to domestic flights, and while the U.S. domestic airspace already contains budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, the arrival of carriers like Norwegian Air Shuttle and WOW Air have certainly put downward pressure on a number of transatlantic markets. As a result, any fluctuation could well put these transcon fares back above the routes they’re currently cheaper than.

Moreover, fares are not made to be identical or stagnant, as, for example, a market with less competition and a high number of business travelers is likely to have a higher base fare at any given time. After all, from a business standpoint, why charge less when people will pay more? Airlines are businesses, and businesses aim to maximize profits, so they’ll do their best to get the maximum “willingness to pay” out of their customers. If that willingness is “up” in a certain place, it’s reasonable to assume that the prices will adjust accordingly.

Despite all the pessimism in the preceding two paragraphs, there’s certainly much to be optimistic about. With the ever-increasing affordability of air travel, particularly to destinations far away, the American public can continue to look forward to newfound travel opportunities both near and far.

Flying is Cheaper Than Ever Before – at the Cost of Comfort: Why airlines are cutting legroom, food, and more

There is perhaps nothing in the world that is simultaneously admired yet scorned as the experience of flying.

Excuse my romanticism here for a minute, but I think it’s worth recounting just how exceptional flight is. The fact that we have an invention which can weigh over a million pounds, travel near the speed of sound, and have the endurance to travel halfway around the world is remarkable. Trips that once took weeks, even months, can now be conquered in a number of hours – though that number is greatly variable, as Austin is closer to Boston than Australia, for example. Even so, this is astonishing.

In past decades, flying was a luxury. Comfortable seats and high-class meals were the tenets of an exclusive experience. Of course, the price tag on a plane ticket made it something that could only be afforded by the wealthy – but for those who had the means, the end was worth it.

How the Times Change

Fast-forward to the early 2000s. From TWA to Trump Shuttle (yes, a real carrier), airlines had come and gone over the century before. As the 2000s came along, people were much more likely to be ranting about the perception of being treated poorly going through security checkpoints, at the gate, or on the plane. And while September 11th certainly had a significant, negative impact on airlines, one that took years to overcome, the cost-cutting had already started: for the most part, airlines were no longer serving meals, and the era of ancillary revenue (fees for things that would have been standard 50 years ago) had started.

Who knew olives were so expensive?

There are certain carriers that are synonymous with charging for the majority of amenities. I’ve joked that Spirit Airlines, for example, charges for everything except oxygen, as it even charges those who want an in-flight bottle of water. Norwegian Air Shuttle, meanwhile, has become known for charging for meals – something once unthinkable for those traveling on transatlantic flights. Regardless of whether these actions have precedent or not, these carriers have begun to develop reputations for being extremely stingy with what they provide to customers in their respective markets.

To be fair, it’s not just the “budget” carriers that are cutting costs – the legacies are equally culpable, especially in the United States. A famous tale about carriers “penny pinching”: former American Airlines CEO Robert “Bob” Crandall found that he could save the airline in excess of $100,000 per year by removing olives from the salads served in coach (predictably, he kept the olives in the first-class salads).

That’s an extreme example, of course, but carriers are always finding ways to cut costs. Generally, it’s the people flying coach that have to bear the brunt of the reductions in service. For decades, no American carrier served complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, and – despite that trend being bucked by American and Delta earlier this year – currently the only way to get a complimentary economy meal is to be on certain transcontinental flights. Ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to be served a free meal on one of those flights, you’re in the minority – the majority of passengers flying domestic economy within the U.S. will not get a free meal (for the time being).

A Rock and a Hard Place

I have no problem admitting that I’m a British Airways fan. From the Union Jack tail and Speedmarque to the majestic combination of the two on the carrier’s Boeing 747-400, I can name numerous reasons that I like the flag carrier of the United Kingdom. I even had yet another excellent experience flying BOS-LHR-BOS on BA back in April.

However, I am not afraid to say that, in my view, the carrier has made a number of mis-steps in its effort to cut costs. The decision to start charging for food (albeit food from Marks and Spencer, a high-quality brand) on intra-Europe flights was, at best, a slight reduction in service to cut costs. At worst, it was the first step of a long-respected carrier losing its reputation as a customer service darling.

More than Meals

It’s not just the food that has passengers questioning the quality of Britain’s flag carrier. Since CEO Alex Cruz, the former head of Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling, took over in 2016, many have alleged that Cruz – along with Willie Walsh (CEO of parent company IAG and former BA CEO) – is trying to turn the carrier into a low-cost carrier of sorts, as a litany of “customer-unfriendly” changes are in the works in both the premium and economy classes. In addition to removing the second meal on westbound long-haul flights, he sounded out the possibility of charging for meals on long-haul flights in the future – a possibility that BA adamantly denied was on the cards at the time, but nevertheless one that upset passengers.

I’ve certainly been critical of Cruz since he’s come in. Additionally, I don’t think that running a low-cost carrier like Vueling is necessarily great preparation for running one of the world’s most venerable brands.

At the same time, I can somewhat understand why he’s making these (admittedly undesirable) changes. After all, new, low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air have begun putting pressure on transatlantic carriers to cut their prices in order to stay competitive. For example, when Norwegian can sell a JFK-LGW ticket for $300, it certainly makes one think twice about shelling out $600+ to fly JFK-LHR on one of the legacies, even if it means paying for checked bags or eating at the airport restaurant to save some money.

It certainly doesn’t provide the same allure as flying Emirates, but, as of this writing, British Airways is still listed as a SKYTRAX four-star airline – one star better than any of the American legacy carriers in American, Delta, and United. Yet amidst a number of recent complaints about the experiences in both the premium and economy classes, many would say that BA is not making it easy to justify paying extra for an allegedly less-than-stellar experience. The challenge for BA will be to balance its cost-cutting measures with improvements in passenger experience – improvements that will enable passengers to justify paying a premium to fly “the World’s Favourite Airline.”

Consumers Drive the Market

Food and amenities aren’t the only thing that airlines are cutting. Aside from staffing reductions, perhaps the most controversial cuts in the airline industry have been to something that directly impacts the comfort of (most) passengers: legroom.

That’s right: carriers – including American Airlines – are reconfiguring planes to hold more seats, which ultimately reduces the amount of legroom that each passenger is entitled to. In fact, Spirit of all carriers is giving American a run for its money. Just to underline how notable this is, Spirit is the same carrier whose planes are so crammed that its seats can’t be reclined (the carrier calls them “pre-reclined” – which, however disingenuous, is a brilliant turn of phrase, I must say).

Why would American do this to itself? United President Scott Kirby – who formerly held the same role at American – put it simply:

“Seat pitch has come down…because that’s what customers voted with their wallets that they wanted. … [E]very time airlines put more seat pitch on, customers choose the lowest price. Customers have to be willing to pay if they want more seat pitch. And the evidence is that they aren’t willing to.”

I have to say that I have some reservations about Kirby’s oversimplified supply-and-demand equation, as I don’t believe that load factors would suffer as much as he might claim if ticket prices were raised as a result of more legroom. Yet as much as we might hate to admit it, he is (mostly) right. These days, it’s all about finding the lowest price – although those low prices are more due to low oil prices and increasingly fuel-efficient aircraft rather than the benevolence of airlines.

Even so, I am as guilty of this as any: I almost always go for the cheapest ticket, as it is much easier to justify spending a sub-$100 amount to fly somewhere for a weekend versus shelling out $200+ but having more legroom. The unfortunate reality is that the current trend will likely continue: as we continue to demand cheaper prices, airlines will continue to shrink legroom to stay competitive.

On a lighter note, there is one thing you can do to combat experiencing ever-shrinking legroom: fly on my favorite American carrier – jetBlue!

Dispirited Experiences: What makes Spirit so undesirable?

I’ve flown Spirit Airlines twice – once to Chicago O’Hare, once to Baltimore. Both times, I got on the outbound leg of my trip, flew to my destination, and had no complaints.

Unfortunately, the return legs of both trips proved to be much less pleasant.

On the trip back from Chicago, my flight was delayed by an hour. Coming back from Baltimore, it was 2 ½ hours. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.

The Spirit Hallmarks

Spirit brands itself as an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC). And in certain instances, Spirit’s prices are less than those of a number of carriers. However, I have found a number of times where American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, jetBlue, and United Airlines have beaten Spirit’s offering by some distance. As a result, I don’t really buy Spirit’s implicit M.O. of “the reason we provide (virtually) zero amenities is so we can deliver the cheapest fares.” They’ve even explained that they charge for water because putting water on the plane makes the plane weigh more, thus leading to the need for more fuel and increased fuel expenses. Given that a variety of airlines have started to charge for refreshments, I get it, but a glass of water is different than a can of soda – I don’t know of any other carrier that charges for the former.

Getting Carried Away

In an era where airlines have come under increased scrutiny for charging checked bag fees, Spirit has taken it one step further, as the carrier charges for carry-on bags. To an extent, I don’t mind this. I can’t tell you how much it bothers me to see oblivious people trying to stuff their over-sized carry-on into the overhead bin. At the same time, I think charging for carry-ons is a little excessive, and could perhaps be the beginning of an avalanche of ancillary fees.

Things Aren’t Always What they Seem

Ultimately, Spirit’s lack of amenities is done in the name of frugality – it certainly doesn’t intend to be malevolent. In fact, the carrier openly acknowledges its lack of amenities, telling passengers that a lack of frills is how the carrier is able to sustain its business model. However, I can’t say that I buy this, either. For example, jetBlue can afford to provide passengers with free refreshments, free seat selection, free Wi-Fi, and free DirecTV. I can’t say I comprehend why Spirit feels the need to do without TVs, Wi-Fi, or an adequately-sized tray table.

Of course, my sample size may of Spirit experiences be small. Moreover, I do not doubt there are passengers who fly Spirit without delays. However, Spirit’s no-frills rationale seems flawed, particularly considering the existence of jetBlue and Southwest Airlines. After all, these two low-cost carriers are the two highest-ranked U.S. carriers in the J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction rankings. Maybe if Spirit focused more on service, it would be able to rid itself its bad reputation.

The Basics of United’s Basic Economy

When I first heard that United was unveiling a Basic Economy product comparable to the experience of an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC), I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. On the one hand, I have flown on an ULCC – Spirit Airlines – and have not been overly impressed with anything except for the cost of my ticket. However, I am a big believer in making flying as accessible as possible, and while I do think that even the legacy carriers have decreased their airfares across the board, there are certain amenities that certain people simply don’t feel that they need on a short domestic flight: food, drink, etc.

What are the differences?

To the average traveler, the two main things that differentiate Basic Economy from United’s normal Economy product are:

  1. The traveler cannot bring a carry-on bag on board the aircraft. Personal items are allowed, however.
  2. You cannot choose your seat when you purchase your ticket. Seats are assigned at check-in.

Another component of Basic Economy – one that is perhaps less pertinent to people who don’t fly frequently – is that frequent flyers cannot earn elite qualifying miles (EQMs) with Basic Economy fares. They will earn redeemable “award miles” that can be used towards redeeming flights in the future, but these miles will not count towards the earning of elite status. (If you want to learn more about the difference between award miles and EQMs, check out this comprehensive explanation from The Points Guy).

United isn’t the first airline to go with a form of “assigning” seats. In fact, Southwest Airlines’ unique policy gives every traveler a boarding classification consisting of a letter (A-C) and number (1-60) based on when they check in, albeit Southwest elite members are assigned a better boarding position (usually A1-A15), hence allowing them a better chance at their preferential seat. Southwest claims that this makes boarding far more efficient, and as someone who has flown on Southwest I can’t disagree: both boardings were extremely quick. However, I personally like to know that I’m getting a window seat, so – for that reason – this wouldn’t be something that I would choose. With Southwest, you can get in a solid boarding position by checking in early: I got window seat 3F from position B6, which was in the second full boarding group. With United, however, you’re relying on the luck of the draw. Additionally, passengers sitting Basic Economy seats are relegated to the last boarding group. Not a huge deal, but some might not enjoy having to wait to board and – likely – disembark.

I can’t say that I’m super upset about less carry-ons, though. As someone who often sees people either struggling to fit their (too large) carry-on into the overhead compartment, I personally think that a lot of people try to push the limit with carry-ons. A personal item, however, is much more restrictive, and the consequences of not being able to fit said item under the seat are, I think, more likely to deter people from making poorly-advised decisions regarding how large their personal item is.

What don’t people like about ULCCs?

There are a number of reasons, but I’ll outline my own reason for avoiding ULCCs.

I’ve only flown twice on an ULCC, both times with Spirit. And while my sample size of ULCC experiences is admittedly small, my issue with ULCCs has been the sheer lack of reliability that I’ve experienced. Both times I’ve flown Spirit, the way out has been on time, but the way back has been delayed by at least an hour; in the second case (a return flight from BWI), it was 2 1/2 hours. And while Spirit did provide a $50 voucher for that delay, that was enough for me to decide that enough is enough. Delay me once, shame on me; delay me twice, shame on you.

Additionally, the difference in price between a ULCC and your average low-cost carrier (LCC) is usually negligible. In fact, jetBlue, which is my favorite domestic airline, is a low-cost carrier, and I’ve found its prices to be cheaper than or comparable to those of Spirit on many occasions. Why would I pay $10 less for vastly inferior comfort, service, and reliability?

Moreover, the top two U.S. airlines in terms of customer satisfaction ratings – jetBlue and Southwest – are both LCCs. Ultimately, LCCs have proven that there is no inherent need to sacrifice neither the hard product (materials/physical amenities/etc.) nor the soft product (service/food/drink/etc.) for savings. Given their inferior customer satisfaction scores, it appears that some U.S.-based ULCCs still haven’t comprehended that.

What’s the difference between Basic Economy and a ULCC?

Simply put, United’s hard product is significantly superior to that of Spirit and other ULCCs. While those airlines charge for basically everything except breathing and using the bathroom, United passengers will be able to enjoy in-flight entertainment (where available), Wi-Fi (for purchase), and a normal Economy seat (even if it’s in a less-than-desirable location),. Conversely, most Spirit planes have tiny tray tables, no Wi-Fi, and the seats make me feel like I’m in a sardine can. Of course, United’s economy isn’t comparable to a day at the spa, but it’s far more comfortable than anything comparable that you’ll find on a ULCC.

Is Basic Economy worth it?

Given my desire to know that I’m getting a window seat, I probably would not choose a Basic Economy seat, although I am an admittedly rare case. Besides, the routes which United flies out of my home airport are usually pretty affordable anyway – I’ve flown both BOS-ORD and BOS-EWR for less than $100 round trip – so the cost savings don’t justify the concession I’d have to make in terms of predictability.

However, for the average person who travels light and just wants to get on the plane, then I’d say it’s absolutely worth it: you’ll get a reasonably comfortable seat, a hard product that is far better than the ULCCs, and will even get complementary food and drinks. And, most importantly, you’ll get a very good deal.

 

Calling All Bostonians: 9 non stops for less than $99 round trip

There was plenty of evidence in yesterday’s edition of Hump Day Fare Hacks that flights to Europe are staggeringly cheap right now. Equally exciting is that there are a (comparatively speaking) large number of Boston-originating domestic flights that are going for far less than usual. The craziest part of that is that – while low-cost carriers are present on this spontaneously-created list – they make up less than half of the options, meaning that legacy carriers (namely American) are offering flights for cheaper than ever before. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, that’s good news for us travelers!

Note 1: All of these fares were found through Google Flights. There are even more sub-$100 destinations if you are fine with layovers, including Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.

Note 2: I hesitated listing Spirit Airlines flights, as – in addition to charging for pretty much everything except a seat and personal item – my plane has been delayed coming back both times I’ve flown them. However, they do offer some exceptional deals, and if you know what you’re getting into, the low price may well be worth it, although I will say that I consider jetBlue to have similarly low prices and far superior service.

 

Baltimore – Southwest Airlines – $82

Chicago (O’Hare) – American Airlines and United Airlines – $87

Cleveland – Spirit Airlines – $69

Dallas-Ft. Worth – American Airlines – $87

Detroit – Spirit Airlines – $79

New York JFK – American Airlines – $69

New York LaGuardia – American Airlines and jetBlue – $97

Washington (National) – American Airlines – $69

West Palm Beach – Spirit Airlines $89

 

Hump Day Fare Hacks: August 17, 2016

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Norwegian Air Shuttle is the most-represented carrier in this week’s edition of Hump Day Fare Hacks. Even so, the average of Norwegian’s five fares is $294.80. That is simply stunning.

There weren’t any crazy developments this week in the form of new, out-of-this-world fares. However, as I had (unfortunately) suspected, prices on EWR-HKG and JFK-HKG did not stay insanely low forever — they are now in the mid-$700 range at best from those airports. That said, the fact that they’re that low is still pretty incredible if you think about it.

For those looking to stay closer to home, you’re in luck: jetBlue is currently having a flash sale for Labor Day weekend. Buy tonight before 11:59 p.m. EDT and you’ll have the opportunity to purchase fares as low as $58 round trip (yes, round trip) to a number of different destinations (I counted 16 from Boston). Absolutely crazy.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • September 27 (return October 6)
  • October 11, 18 (return October 20, 27)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $306

Thoughts: Hasn’t gone below $300 yet, but I think it well could — especially if Norwegian is having trouble selling seats. (Not saying that such is the case, but I don’t have access to the load factors for any of Boston’s Norwegian routes yet, so it could well be possible).

 

Boston – Munich

Leave on:

  • December 11, 12, 13

Carrier: Lufthansa
Price: $628

Thoughts: Any flight you can get on Lufthansa for — I’d say — less than $800 is certainly a good deal. Less than $700, even better.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 13, 15, 17

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $336

Thoughts: Consistently having to remind myself that this is, in fact, real.

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • September 30 (return October 8)
  • October 17, 21 (return October 25, 29)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $269

Thoughts: I’d have to go back and check, but this may well be the lowest fare that I’ve seen on BOS-OSL while producing Hump Day Fare Hacks. That it dropped $16 from last week and is available on two more dates than it was then is truly remarkable.

 

Boston – Tel Aviv

Leave on:

  • November 24, 26 (return December 1, 3)

Carrier: El Al
Price: $650

Thoughts: A fantastic deal for people who want to spend Thanksgiving in Israel.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK – Brussels

Leave on:

  • December 15

Carrier: Brussels Airlines
Price: $460

Thoughts: This price certainly stands out, as it’s much lower than one would expect to pay on this particular route — perhaps obvious given that it’s available on only one departure date. Brussels retrofitted its Airbus A330s in 2012, and its long-haul economy product seems to be an extremely good one.

 

New York JFK – Johannesburg

Leave on:

  • August 29 September 4-14, 18-22, 25-29 October 3-5, 10-12, 14, 17-20, 24-28, 30, 31 November 1-4, 7-17, 22
  • January (2017) 11-13, 15-20, 22-27, 29-31
  • February (2017) 1-10, 12-17, 19-23, 27, 28
  • March (2017) 1, 2, 6-8, 13-16, 21-23, 27-30

Carrier: South African Airways
Price: $907

Thoughts: While this might not be a steal in terms of “face value” ticket price, it is certainly excellent value for your money — with a large selection of available dates, to boot.

 

Newark – Munich

Leave on:

  • November 16, 18, 21
  • December 10, 11, 14

Carrier: United Airlines
Price: $527

Thoughts: It might not be Lufthansa, but a sub-$600 round trip to Germany is certainly one worth considering.

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January 13, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 31
  • February 3, 5, 17

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $281

Thoughts: $1 more and a slight number of dates less than last week, but still an unbelievable deal.

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 18, 20, 21, 25, 27, 28
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 20, 25, 27

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: See everything (directly) above? Same applies here.

Finding Cheap Flights is Easier Than You Think

This weekend, I traveled to Washington D.C. to visit a good friend from college, flying both BOS-DCA and DCA-BOS on American Airlines’ Airbus A319s. Both legs were rather uneventful as far as aviation milestones go, although I did get a pretty great view of the Friday evening sunset on the way down.

For my trip to Logan, I opened a ride sharing app and requested a ride. It must have been the quickest pickup I’ve ever had waiting for a ride: I saw the app confirm the driver, only to look up and see his van parked around 20 yards away. Apparently, he was driving down the street, received the request, saw me looking at my phone, and pulled over. It was a serendipitous and convenient encounter.

During the ride, my interest in finding cheap flights came up. I told him that I’ve flown four times for less than $100 round trip. Somewhere in there, he spoke of his desire to travel to his native Morocco with his family, but said that the flights were extremely expensive — a round trip from New York to Casablanca was well north of $1,300 for one adult.

“Well,” I said, “I was looking last week, and saw that flights to Casablanca from JFK are going for less than $1,000.”

“Really?” he asked.

“You bet,” I replied. “Let me check on my phone.” I had downloaded a third-party app that gave me access to the Google Flights interface, so I entered “JFK” and “CMN” and picked a pair of dates that I thought would be cheap: a pair of Wednesdays in December, well before Christmas. The result: a $790 direct flight on Royal Air Maroc.

When I told him of this price, he was pretty surprised. However, I knew in the back of my mind that an affordable flight from Boston — even if it wasn’t direct — would be even better than the option that I’d told him of.

“Let me see what I can get you from Boston,” I said. I plugged in BOS and CMN in, expecting to find something around the same price.

Lo and behold, it was even cheaper: a $681 round trip on TAP Portugal was available for a variety of dates in Fall 2016.

“That’s crazy!” he exclaimed when I told him of the price. After cautioning him that it would involve multi-hour layovers in Lisbon on both legs of the journey, to which he said was completely fine, I said that I’d be happy to pass along the itinerary to him if he’d provide his email, to which he eagerly obliged. In a matter of minutes, a pipe dream had become much closer to reality.

Knowledge is Power

Though this story might seem self-promotional or a “humble brag” of sorts, that’s not my intention at all. Rather, it’s to convey that flying can be much more affordable than many might think.

Despite naming my weekly blog series Hump Day Fare Hacks, I’m here to emphasize that what I do is not rocket science. Similarly, it is not anything that you cannot do. When I told a co-worker that I use Google Flights, which has an incredibly user-friendly interface and lists the schedules of pretty much every airline*, he jokingly asked me how I could be called an “expert at finding cheap flights” by fellow employees. (I’d like to stress that I did not give myself that title.) I replied that it’s not about using a tool that no one else has access to, but rather having unique knowledge such as:

  • Knowing what’s a good deal, rip-off, and normal price for a particular route.
  • Being aware of which airlines tend to run cheaper vs. more expensive in certain markets.
  • Keeping cognizant of price increases, fare classes, and other pertinent information.
What to Change

Many will go to an airline’s website, plug in the dates they want to travel on, and pick the first flight that they see. And while it might result in peace of mind because you’ve booked and paid for your trip earlier, reality is that you could save hundreds of dollars by scouring your options more comprehensively, checking a variety of dates, and looking at low-fare calendars. When I have a trip that I want to book, I usually experiment with a variety of dates, carriers, and trip lengths to see what will yield the best deal. And while I will usually pay extra for things like a window seat, I’ll usually take the 6 a.m. flight if it means that I’ll be saving $100 one way.

Certainly, flying has become much more affordable in the past decade. From increased competition and the emergence of low-cost carriers like jetBlue, to low fuel prices and increasingly efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, there are a number of factors that have contributed to the falling prices of flights.

Regardless, it seems that many are still unaware of what a “normal price” for a flight on a certain route, not to mention a “good deal,” is — myself included. Before I started flying on a regular basis in 2014, I would have assumed that a BOS-PHL flight would go for $300+ round trip. In reality, there are a number of flights on that route for less than $200. If I myself have suffered from these misconceptions, I’m certain that there are many more out there just like me.

Bottom Line: Be an Educated Consumer

Much like buying a car, the best way to get a deal on a flight is to be an educated consumer. That means looking at a variety of travel websites, airlines, and repositories to see where the best deals are. Additionally — unless you’re on a strict schedule — it helps to experiment with a number of dates, flights, and seats. Considering that paying for a flight is, often times, a large financial investment, it’s surprising to see how many people who will simply book the first two dates that come to mind without realizing the savings they’re missing out on. There are a number of affordable, even cheap, flights out there if you know where to find them. Good news: it’s much easier than you think.

Note: * There are some carriers that don’t publish their fares on Google Flights, Southwest Airlines being one of them. That said, I’ve found some great deals on Southwest’s website, although such prices are usually exclusive to certain routes — email me if you want to know more about a particular city pairing.