The good news is that summer airfares have peaked. The bad news is that they’re still too darn high.
“The reality is the airfare is very high this summer, higher than we’ve seen before,” says Hayley Berg, chief economist at Hopper, the deal-finding site and app. The average domestic airfare peaked at the beginning of June at about $420 for a roundtrip ticket, and is down back to around $395. But before anyone breaks out confetti, peaking in June is just the typical seasonal pattern for airfares.
For travelers who think $395 is still too darn high, Berg says there are still bargains to be found if you know where to look. While several factors are conspiring to make airfares rise — fuel costs, pilot shortages, travel demand — there are also a few tried-and-true tricks for predicting when and where airfares will fall.
Watch where budget airlines add routes
Airfares are determined by supply and demand. When any airline adds a new route, it amps up competition, which tends to bring prices down. “Looking at what new services airlines are offering, or what network changes airlines have made for your local airport, is a really great travel hack,” says Berg.
Note that not all airlines are created equal. The very best scenario is when a budget carrier introduces new service between two destinations.
“When a low-cost carrier starts a new route from a given airport, prices will drop by an average of 20% on all carriers that fly that route,” says Berg. “So if a lower-cost carrier enters a route, it’s an especially great opportunity for traveler.”
Using that tip, Las Vegas is poised to be this summer’s biggest bargain, as no destination will get more love from budget carriers. Frontier already connects Vegas with more than 50 U.S. destinations and will begin running daily flights from Baltimore, Buffalo, Hartford and Kansas City on August 9. Also in August, Spirit Airlines will add service between Las Vegas and Reno, Boise and Albuquerque. Allegiant is going to begin Provo-Las Vegas service on August 18.
And deal hounds can find plenty of other new routes to ponder, as the chart below indicates.
The typical pattern is that the incoming airline will typically offer great introductory fares on the new route. Then other airlines flying the same route will lower their fares, though not always immediately. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of time as the new carrier builds up service,” says Berg.
Watch for new service from your home airport
Another savvy strategy is to stay open to opportunities that arise based on where you live. You may find that a bargain destination is right under your nose.
“Keep an eye out for new airlines entering your home airport,” advises Berg. “You might see what we call fire sales — super-low prices advertised from the airline to incentivize travelers to start looking at that route for the first time out of their local airport.”
For example, in April, when Frontier Airlines announced brand new daily service from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Ontario (California), Phoenix and Tampa, the ultra-low-cost carrier sweetened the pot with dirt-cheap airfares starting at just $69 to $139 for those routes.
Carriers almost always offer promotions for the first few weeks of months after launching a new service, says Berg, so eagle-eyed travelers in those areas can expect to find deals on those routes.
Looking for a great deal on international flights from an airport near you this summer? The same golden rule applies. Signing up for alerts from your local airport is an easy way to stay on top of when service to a new destination is added.
For travelers willing to let the destination pick them instead of the other way around, money-saving opportunities abound for international trips. Earlier this month Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) announced Finnair’s launch of new service between Seattle and Helsinki and Air Canada’s new Seattle-Montreal route. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) has new JetBlue service to Vancouver. St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) just announced new Lufthansa service between St. Louis and Frankfurt. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has revealed new American Airline service to Jamaica. Last month, Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) announced a new Icelandair route to Reykavik.
On the horizon: New JetBlue service between Boston Logan (BOS) and London Gatwick begins on August 4, and between Boston Logan and London Heathrow on September 20.
Don’t forget the upstarts
The major legacy airlines may have bigger advertising budgets, but don’t forget to consider the little guys. Last year, three new low-cost upstart airlines — Breeze, Avelo, and Aha! — launched in the United States and have aggressively focused on connecting their hubs to underserved regional airports. The common thread is their low-low fares.
Since launching in spring of 2021, Avelo Airlines has expanded to both coasts with hubs in Los Angeles, New Haven and Orlando and routes to two dozen other destinations.
Breeze Airways now flies to 30 airports across the U.S., offering cross-country flights and bringing passengers to a number of Southeastern gems, from Savannah and Charleston to New Orleans and six Florida hubs.
Aha!, based out of Reno, now flies to nine regional airports on the West Coast with plans to add two more by the end of the summer.