Holiday fares fluctuate widely, not always in the up direction

George Hobica, October 16, 2009
Fares from Washington DC:

    It's that time of year when the media trots out the annual holiday airfare stories. This article on the front page of the New York Times caught our attention. Reading it, you'd think that it's too late to nab decent fares for Thanksgiving. Of course, it depends on what you mean by decent.

    According to the Times, "Dilly-dallying, even waiting just a few days, could carry a steep price. Fares, though still lower now than at this time last year, are rising each day, a trajectory that began more than a month ago.

    In the last week alone, overall fares for Thanksgiving travel rose 6 percent, according to Bing Travel, part of Microsoft's search engine. Ticket prices for the most popular itinerary, departing Wednesday, Nov. 25, and returning Sunday, Nov. 29, are up 10 percent in the last week.

    In recent weeks, some flights have risen even more. From New York, a round-trip American Airlines flight to Chicago that cost $354 on Sept. 14 was $540 on Thursday, a 52 percent jump, according to, which tracks fares.

    A JetBlue flight to Orlando that was $524 on Sept. 24 was $614 on Thursday, and a Continental flight from Newark to San Francisco that was $504 on Sept. 18 was $770.

    That does not count all the extra fees -- some added just for holiday travel days -- that airlines are charging this year."

    For fun, we checked fares on the three examples cited in the above paragraphs, using searches on Travelocity at around 11 AM on Friday, a day after the article was filed.

    In all cases, we found that lower fares were available.

    New York to Chicago leaving Wednesday Nov 25 and returning Sunday Nov. 29, for example, we found seats at $333 round-trip on American nonstops, even lower than the Sept. 14 fare that Yapta quoted at $354 and much less than $540. Oh, and it's even lower on Southwest at present: $327 round-trip, with no first or second bag fees, on LaGuardia-Midway nonstops. But of course, Yapta doesn't track Southwest's fares or include them in its data.

    New York to Orlando: $524 round-trip?  $614 round-trip? Nope. $399 round-trip on those dates, including all taxes.

    The third example was Newark to San Francisco at $770 round-trip. We found an alternate flight on United for $566 round-trip, including taxes.

    Correction posted Oct. 17: And on Saturday morning, a couple of days after the doom and gloom Times article, Newark to San Francisco can be had for $467.80 round-trip with taxes traveling outbound on Nov 25 and returning Nov 29:

    Not that these fares are cheap by any means. The airlines are definitely getting a premium for peak holiday travel, as they always do.

    And this is not to say that the Times and its sources got the fares wrong when they searched, but it is to say that fares go up and they go down, and seat availability at the lowest fares decreases and increases throughout the day and over several days. We're just afraid that someone reading the Times today might conclude that the game is up if they haven't booked holiday travel yet and they should stop looking for (relative) deals. And that, clearly, is not true.