Q. I wanted to book a flight to Amsterdam in March and finally found one, departing from Chicago, costing $419. A spectacular fare!  Then on a whim I searched flights from Madison to Amsterdam and found various options from $370 to just above $400. This was a surprise, as I've never once found a reasonable international fare from Madison.

Some of these fares listed by Priceline jumped when I tried selecting seats. I did finally end up with a ticket on United for $390. These fares have since disappeared and these flights cost now double or even triple that amount.

Is one company starting an unadvertised sale, and then the others are try to match it? And then, after about half a day, all this collapses? Do you have any insight as to how this works? Was it a glitch?

A. These were not mistake fares. These fares were partly due to lower traffic from Europe to the US. Lower fuel prices allow for lower fares. And fuel efficient planes are burning less fuel. This was simply a tit for tat classic fare war fueled in part by lower fuel prices and lagging demand combined with more capacity.

The airlines have dedicated staff checking what other airlines are charging, as well as which routes need more passengers. And not just from the US to wherever but also from wherever to the US; if Europeans aren’t buying, they either lower the price from Europe and back, or to Europe and back.

Often for reasons I don’t understand, it’s cheaper to fly from a secondary airport like Madison. It might be because people don’t like to make connections so connecting flights are sold for less than the more desirable nonstop flights from the larger airport As for the price increasing while you were selecting seats, that sometimes happens when the fare has changed but the booking engine hasn’t caught up yet. Once in a while it’s because there were just a couple of seats available and they sold out between search and booking.

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