The Current Trend in Airfare

For those of you who follow Our Frugal Life on Facebook, you’ve seen the trend. International airfares are down tremendously over the past few years. Domestic fares seem to be remaining fairly consistent, but airfare between the US and Europe has been as low as $263 roundtrip. That is crazy. I mean, really crazy. And awesome for those of us who are drawn to international travel.

Before I employed my strategy of utilizing credit card sign up bonuses to travel the world, I chose my destinations solely based upon where the latest sale was. We went to Mazatalan, Mexico back in 2006 based upon such a sale. And who could forget our $1400 roundtrip fare to New Zealand in business class or our 2006 business class trip to Cyprus and Italy for only a few hundred dollars? These trips were great and I kind of liked being led around the world by cheap fares…

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Amazing New Zealand

Starting in 2010, however, the vast majority of our trips have been funded by banks in the form of frequent flier miles. 100,000 mile offers were appearing, trying to draw in more customers as we came out of the recession. And getting the bonuses over and over again for the same card was not a problem. At some point I’d love to tally our total miles earned over the years… Thanks to this generosity, my kids have seen 10 countries that we may never have visited without the help of frequent flier miles.

But the pendulum is swinging again and back in the direction of sale or mistake fare based trips. How can I justify spending 60,000 miles to Denmark when I can pay $263 for a roundtrip fare? And the 60,000 miles doesn’t even include the $100 or so in fees for the privilege to use those miles…

And the timing of these cheap fares is quite fortunate for those of us in the mileage collection business… Banks have tightened up their requirements and getting a credit card sign up bonus over and over again is becoming a thing of the past. American Express now only allows a bonus for a given credit card once per lifetime. Chase will only approve a card if you haven’t had more than 5 credit inquiries on your credit report from any bank over the past two years. And Citibank is now not approving any cards of any brand if you’ve had a card from the same brand in the last two years, even if it’s a different card.

Yikes, how are we going to fund our travel addiction?

The answer has started to become pretty clear. Sales, fare wars, fuel dumps, and mistake fares. Airlines have become more savvy at preventing “fat finger” fare mistakes by employing more checks in their systems so the $6 fares aren’t as prevalent as they once were. But sales and fare wars have picked up considerably, especially to Europe and Asia. And there are fuel dumps to be had, if you know where to look.

The trend in sales does appear to be in the form of “flash sales” whereby airlines clear some inventory by briefly discounting airfare on a certain route or routes. These flash sales basically fill seats that would have otherwise gone out empty and they often appear within a month or two of travel which can be tough to plan for. But there have also been sales for travel several months into the future. The $263 fare from Boston to Denmark that appeared this past weekend was for travel into April.

So where does this leave us, a family that tends to plan for travel around 11 months in advance? Well, we’re now looking a schedule that has no travel booked from May of 2017 on. That would have been crazy talk just a year ago. But the plan for now has us saving our dwindling balances of frequent flier miles for mega trips where we’d like to travel in business class. It has become quite apparent that it makes little sense to use miles for coach seats these days.

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I see more Southwest flights in our near future!

We’ll likely jump on sale fares for the majority of our travel and if a sale never comes that works for us, we’ll keep marching forward, collecting our miles as we’re still able and perhaps taking fewer trips. As a person with a type A personality that plans everything well in advance, this isn’t my most favorite strategy. But the unpredictability can be kind of fun, don’t you think?

For those of you who don’t yet follow Our Frugal Life on Facebook, I recommend doing so since I post any sales from Boston there. And of course, don’t forget to follow @ourfrugallife on Instagram. We have a handful of awesome adventures coming up in the next few months and you’ll find the most recent updates there!

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