Where are airfares headed in 2009? We don't know, and we don't think anyone else does, either

George Hobica, December 22, 2008
Fares from Washington DC:

    Where are airfares headed in 2009? If we knew, trust us, we would not be sitting here. No siree, we'd be sitting on the terrace of our beachfront villa on St. Barts, sipping fancy drinks adorned with colorful umbrellas. We'd have flown there in our Gulfstream V (no commercial flights for us!). Yep, we would have retired a looooong time ago. Gone native. Flown the coop.

    Because if we knew where airfares were heading, we'd also know exactly where oil prices are headed, and we would be playing on the New York Mercantile Exchange. We'd also know where the economy in general was headed. And we'd also be able to read the minds of airline executives, who haven't proven themselves to be the most rational businessmen since the dawn of commercial aviation.

    The vagaries of airline pricing haven't prevented other airfare gurus from taking stabs at price predictions. I guess it's one way to grab headlines. In fact, one such guru was quoted in the same week predicting that fares would go both up and down. How's that for hedging one's bets.

    In an AP story last week, this expert was quoted as saying, "Don't expect lower fuel prices to lower domestic airfares" and predicted "stable high prices for domestic airfares. We had 30 airfare hikes between the summer of '07 and '08, which raised the price point 20 to 40 percent. I think that price point will stay stable in 2009."

    But the very same week, we saw a different angle on Businessweek.com.

    The reporter spoke with "the two most prominent airfare 'gurus' " (hey, Tracy and I thought we were that!) and both predicted that fares through the first half of 2009 will yield a bonanza of bargains for travelers. The same expert quoted in the AP story above predicts we will see the "holy grail" of $99 fares cross-country again, with many trans-continental routes currently selling for $109 each way.  But wait a sec: $99 one-way cross country fares were available, off and on, throughout 2008; we saw $69 and $79 one-way transcon fares on some routes.

    So which is it? Don't expect lower domestic fares, or expect a bonanza of $99 bargains? Truth is, no one really knows. Our crystal ball is in the repair shop and our turban is at the dry cleaner.