- Airlines are dropping fares as the Omicron coronavirus variant spreads and business travelers stay home.
- Discounted fares can be had to popular vacation destinations including Hawaii and Latin America.
- Unadvertised fare sales can also lead to better savings than published fare sales.
Major airlines have unveiled sales throughout December and discounted airfares in the hopes that more Americans will take to the skies after the holidays. And while flight sales are common, what makes the most recent offerings stand out to experts is how much some airlines are willing to discount.
“The airline industry is one of the business world’s most perfect examples of the fundamental laws of supply and demand in action,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider of the recent sales. “It’s a very soft period for the airlines between, say, January 5 and Presidents’ Day weekend.”
Airlines now also have to contend with the Omicron coronavirus variant and the fact that fewer than expected business travelers will be filling their aircraft cabins. Domestic flights, as a result, are seeing some of the best deals since there are limited testing and vaccination requirements when traveling between states with no chance of being stranded abroad.
“Airlines know that January and February are two of the least popular months to travel out of the whole year,” Scott Keyes, a professional flight deal tracker and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told Insider. “If I’m an airline executive, I am terrified that I am not going to be able to sell these seats come early January.”
One of the best sales that Keyes has seen in recent weeks was from Hawaiian Airlines in which round-trip airfares between Hawaii and the West Coast were going for as little as $123. Even as of writing, fares to Hawaii can be had for less than $200 from cities throughout California.
Ultra-low-cost airlines that are already known for bargain fares are also jumping on the sale bandwagon. Frontier Airlines is currently running a buy-one, get-one promotion for members of its Discount Den subscription program through December 17 and Avelo Airlines is offering a 50% off discount code that’s only valid on December 16.
But great deals have been easier to come by in recent weeks regardless of whether a sale is running.
JetBlue Airways is in the midst of a three-day sale in which fares start at $49 one-way from New York to destinations like Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. Other JetBlue routes, however, are seeing unadvertised sales in which a one-way ticket between New York and Boston can be bought for as little as $29 one-way.
Flyers can use resources including Google Flights or a subscription service like Keyes’ own Scott’s Cheap Flights to find unadvertised sales.
International destinations with few to no COVID-19-related entry requirements are also seeing high levels of discounting. Fares to Latin American countries where no COVID-19 test is required to enter including Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia have been selling for less than $200 on major airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue, among others.
All international travelers arriving in the US, however, still need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their flight’s departure.
One region that has been seemingly immune to lower fares is Europe, which Harteveldt attributes to the ever-changing travel restrictions in place on the continent.
“Airlines realize that with all the restrictions in place … they can’t simulate travel through lower fares,” Harteveldt said of flights to Europe, adding that transatlantic travelers may be more willing to pay the going rate as they may have reasons for travel beyond a vacation.
Travelers also have an unprecedented level of flexibility when booking airline tickets as most of the full-service US carriers have eliminated change fees on certain tickets. A flight booked now in regular economy class or above for January can be changed to a later date; though, travelers will have to pay a difference in fare which may be greater if airfares rise in the new year.
Flyers will ultimately have to gauge whether cheap fares are worth traveling amid the Omicron variant’s spread, in what Harteveldt calls the “price of courage.”
“The airfares sales reflect airline confidence in the consumer market and what these very low airfares are telling me is: Airlines are nervous about whether people will be willing to travel after the holidays are over,” Harteveldt said.