Fliers Dig Deeper for Holiday Tickets

At more than twice the rate of inflation, the 8% increase is a "healthy and welcome sign" for airlines hoping for a profitable year.


Delivering Grandma's Christmas packages in person is costing a little more this year.

Travelers this year have paid an average of $342 round trip for holiday air travel, or 8% more than last year, a new analysis shows. Consulting firm Sabre Airline Solutions analyzed millions of tickets purchased through its computer reservation system for travel from next Saturday through Jan. 2. Sabre looked at tickets bought through Nov. 6 for travel started and completed in the period.

At more than twice the rate of inflation, the 8% increase is a "healthy and welcome sign" for airlines hoping for a profitable year, and yet "tolerable for consumers," says Sabre consultant Steven Hendrickson. But how much consumers pay varies widely by the specific routes and by booking dates. In some pockets of the USA, people are paying considerably more than 8% above last year.

Bill Tech, CEO of the Omaha-based corporate travel agency Travel and Transport, says he was forced to buy his Dallas-based daughter a first-class ticket home for Christmas. Flights were nearly sold out the Friday before and Tuesday after Christmas, and this was their only option, he says.

The ticket for the United Airlines flight cost $1,000, more than twice the $400 they typically pay, he says.

"The demand is very high, and the supply of seats is very low," he says. "It's really driving prices up."

One factor influencing fares: More travelers are chasing about the same number of seats as last year. Airlines scheduled 1.6% more seats on domestic flights this month, vs. last year, a USA TODAY analysis of OAG (formerly Official Airline Guides) schedule data shows.

About 9 million Americans will fly this holiday season, which is about 3% more than last year, according to a forecast by travel group AAA. The biggest proportion of fliers will come from the Southeast, followed closely by the West. About 10% of holiday air travelers will fly to beach destinations.

Sheryl Kottler Oshrin of Highland Heights, Ohio, almost scrapped plans to go on a western Caribbean cruise with her husband and two children when she found fares for Cleveland-Miami flights on Continental priced at $500 round trip. She'd booked months in advance, expecting to nab $250 fares.

Reluctantly, she used Continental vouchers they'd obtained when they were bumped from a flight last spring to bring the price down.

"We would not be going on this nine-day cruise if I had to spend an additional $2,000 in holiday airfare prices," she says.

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