Wanna fly cheap? It’s not impossible

As the travel season prepares to heat up, people may wonder what kind of prices await them.

Don’t fret. The global airline market remains competitive, especially if you’re willing to book early, fly at off-peak times and try one of the many young low-cost carriers out there.

Europe always has much cheaper flights, and that’s still true despite the demise earlier this year of  Icelandic budget darling Wow Air. International carriers, including England’s EasyJet, Hungary’s Wizz Air and Ireland’s RyanAir offer cheap international flights, including from the United States.

Not all budget airlines are startups. Several large, international airlines also operate budget brands to compete with their low-cost peers. Australia’s JetStar is a subsidiary of Qantas Airways, Australia’s Tigerair is a unit of Virgin Australia, Spain’s Level Airline is part of Iberia Airway and Spain’s Vueling Airlines is a sister company to British Airways.

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Some European low cost-carriers, such as Spain’s Level Airline, shuttle passengers to their plans on the tarmac. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

There are low-cost U.S. options, too. Condor Airlines, a German carrier, flies to 10 U.S. cities and many international destinations, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines started as a vacation charter, but now offers scheduled passenger service to over 50 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Critics say budget carriers nickle and dime consumers, have poor on-time records and don’t offer the same service or quality. But there increasingly is little difference between the big and small airlines besides price — unless you’re flying business or first class.

It comes down to what what you are willing to pay vs. what you are willing to put up with within your schedule. Your destination also makes a difference.

I can’t complain about recent cheap, economy-class flights I took on Level, JetStar and TigerAir. One airline was delayed and one had narrow,, basic seats. On the other hand, I thought the food was rather good.

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Spanish low-cost carrier, Level Airline, provided seat-back entertainment systems and a USB charger on a transatlantic flight I flew nearly a year ago. Its movie selection impressed me. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Follow these tips to help find affordable airfare no matter what type of airline you fly:

  • Book your tickets on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the cheapest days of the week to fly. An average fare on a Tuesday will cost nearly $85 less than Sunday, which is the most expensive day to travel, according to the CheapAir.com 2019 Annual Airfare Study.
  • Last year, the “best day” to book a flight within the continental United States was 76 days — or 2.5 months — in advance, according to CheapAir, which analyzed 917 million airfares. That falls in the middle of what it calls the “prime booking window” — four months to three weeks before your departure date, when fares are at their lowest.
  • Don’t wait until 20 days or less before your target departure. That’s when your chances of getting a bargain or an aisle seat are the worst.
  • Typically, flights during the winter (excluding around the holidays) tend to be less expensive than in summer. It’s simple supply and demand.
  • Based on that premise, flying to Iceland or Germany in winter will probably cost less than going to a warmer climate.

Note: I took the featured photo of Tigerair at top.

Survey: Christmas season is worst time to fly

Just as millions of Americans prepare to fly back home after Christmas, a new study finds that consumers think air travel is more frustrating than it was five years ago.

Consumers also think the Christmas season is the worst time of year to fly, according to the Morning Consult national survey conducted for the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), an industry trade group.

Such negative emotions mean fewer Americans are willing to travel. The survey found that air travel hassles stopped 24 percent of leisure travelers and 14 percent of business travelers from taking at least one trip in the last five years.

And that’s translated into real losses for the U.S. economy. In 2016, the USTA says Americans avoided 32 million air trips because of travel hassles, costing the economy more than $24 billion in spending.

Here are some of the survey findings over the last five years:

  • 60 percent say airline fees, such as those for checked bags, flight changes and seat assignments, have worsened.
  • 51 percent say the overall cost of flying has increased.
  • 47 percent say airport hassles, such as long lines and crowded terminals, have gotten worse.

Improving airports would help, according to the USTA. Two in five frequent business and leisure travelers would take at least three more trips a year if airport hassles were reduced or went away, according to the survey.

In addition, many survey respondents think Congress should pursue policies to: modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure (60 percent), give airports more flexibility to improve air service options for travelers (55 percent) and maintain competition between airlines (53 percent).

Morning Consult surveyed 2,201 adults online from Oct. 10-12, 2017. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.