MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The travel industry is hoping that any stimulus to the economy will mean more of you will take to the skies. And it's a good time, airlines have slashed airfares. In fact, according to one fare watcher, right now is the best time in a decade to fly.
Rick Seaney is CEO of Farecompare.com, and he joins us now from Dallas to explain why. What kind of deals are you seeing, Mr. Seaney?
RICK SEANEY: It's one of the most incredible things we've seen is, we had some of the highest prices in history last summer when we had the fuel crisis run up. As they started to cut seats out of the system, followed on by the recession, what we're seeing now is some of the cheapest prices we've seen in a decade. So it's completely flipped on its head in just a short year.
NORRIS: Now, I was going to go through one of these examples, which really sounds like it's almost too good to be true. Spirit Air recently advertised a one dollar airfare. One dollar.
SEANEY: Yeah, that's correct.
NORRIS: Really? One dollar? I mean, at that rate it would cost more to buy a can of soda than it would be - than the ticket would cost.
SEANEY: Right. Well, it's very limited seats and what they're trying to do is get you to their Web site. And then if they don't have seats, maybe sell you a different ticket or maybe get you to buy a hotel or something.
This model has been very popular for several years in Europe. Airlines like Ryanair and easyJet have given away literally millions of seats for free. What they typically do is they charge you for your seat selection, to check a bag, if you want a coke on the plane. And then when you come to their Web site, they're hoping you'll also buy a hotel room or look at their advertising, which also provides them other forms of revenue besides airline tickets.
NORRIS: Is the drop in air travel behind this? And is it because of a drop in vacation travel or is there less business travel, as well?
SEANEY: Both, actually. Unfortunately, you know, for the airlines, business travel for many of the older airlines is sort of their core asset. We've seen a big drop in business travel, leisure, not quite as much, but they keep having airfare sales. We've basically had an airfare sale continuous each week since a couple days before Halloween last year. First for Thanksgiving travel, then for Christmas travel and now through the winter.
I mean, right now you can fly to Europe from the east coast through the end of May for $400 roundtrip, all taxes, fuel surcharges included.
NORRIS: Now, Mr. Seaney, you said something interesting, that there's been this sort of constant run of airfare sales. And I'm wondering if the airlines are conditioning consumers to expect these sales. We heard from automakers, for instance, that people don't buy cars unless they see some sort of discount, because that's what they're conditioned to see, these constant run of sales. Could the same thing happen in the airline industry?
SEANEY: Oh, there's no doubt that it's something that they probably are worrying about. Typically an airline would worry about how much to make off of each seat. Really, now they're just trying to get people in those seats. Get people off their couches, on the Internet and booking tickets.
NORRIS: Now, cheap fares are nothing new. But in this case, are the fares at this lower price point, even if you buy last minute tickets?
SEANEY: You know, it's interesting. You know, a lot of these airfares for summer are out right now. So these are at all-time historical lows. You should be buying right now, even for your trip three or four months in advance. Here's a couple of simple tips that will help out. The perfect sweet spot to shop for airline tickets is about Tuesday afternoon.
That's when the sales have come in and then all the other airlines have matched. The absolute cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Many of the cheapest airfares have a rule on them that say you can only fly on those days. So that's a couple of good tips for consumers.
NORRIS: Good tips, indeed. Thank you very much. Now, where are we with the charges for all kinds of amenities, not just for sandwiches and cans of Coca- Cola, but blankets, pillows? There was one airline executive who talked about charging a fee to use the bathroom.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SEANEY: Yeah. Pay for the toilet. That was O'Leary with Ryanair, the ones that sell tickets for a dollar. So now you could see where they make up their other money there.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SEANEY: But definitely the fees are here to stay. They were really instituted during the run-up in the fuel crisis, but it's something the airlines really have wanted to do. One of the things that's troublesome about it is is you don't really know the total cost of your trip because you might have an add-on for a seat or a checked bag and it's harder to compare apples to apples on the Internet.
You know, I used to say that the nuclear option for airlines was to weigh you as you got on the plane and charge you accordingly, like FedEx, but I think, you know, putting a coin slot on the restroom is probably the nuclear option.
NORRIS: Mr. Seaney, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much. Safe flying.
SEANEY: Okay, thank you.
NORRIS: That was Rick Seaney. He's the CEO of Farecompare.com.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.