Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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Hunting for International Bargains This Summer
April 21, 2016 -- Looking for a bargain on an international flight in the next few months? The best advice I can offer if you're hot for a holiday: Buy now. Or wait a while. But act before the flights disappear altogether.
These nuggets may sound contradictory, even nonsensical, but we're talking airlines here. The straight-and-narrow is not on their flight path.
Let's take that last bit first. Especially on routes across the Atlantic, there's far too much capacity. And more is on the way once Norwegian Air, a low-fare, high-fee niche carrier, gets final right to fly virtually anywhere between the United States and the European Union. Add new routes from Aer Lingus of Ireland and a reenergized TAP Air Portugal and the transatlantic is a buyer's market. Fares in coach this summer are as low as they've been during the high season in at least five years.
Big U.S. and European carriers don't like a buyer's market, of course, so they'll slash routes and flight frequencies come the fall. Delta Air Lines promised as much last week when it commented on the weakness of the transatlantic market. It doubled down by unleashing unprecedented high-season discounts for business class Europe awards from Skymiles, its frequent flyer program. And on Wednesday, citing security concerns, Delta decided it wouldn't even bother to launch previously announced flights between New York and Istanbul.
In other words, it could be now or never for some of the flights that suit your holiday fancy.
Which brings us to the issue of when to buy tickets. There have been eyebrow-arching sales popping up lately for summer travel to destinations around the world. Examples: less than $600 roundtrip to Russia on Finnair and $809 to Africa from KLM. That would seem to support a buy-now strategy.
But if you're looking for a premium-class ride this summer, it might be wiser to wait.
"Are we going to see more deals in the business [class] market? Yes, probably," concludes Philippe Lacamp, senior vice president of the Americas for Cathay Pacific, the much-admired carrier based in Hong Kong. "But some markets have had incredibly strong booking and there's been a trend for business travel to book much later than usual. So we're not going to dump seats in a panic."
What's a savvy traveler to do? Guess, I suppose. Or settle for the fair fare. Stop worrying about finding the absolute cheapest price and focus instead of securing a fare that seems reasonable for the travel you seek. When you see that price, jump on it and don't look back.
To guide your deliberations, here's a market-by-market snapshot of the current price environment.
Europe for the fearless
The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have unquestionably rattled the market. Throw in tensions with Russia, unrest in Turkey and Europe's migrant crisis and you have a recipe for a weak summer. Also affecting the market: a strong dollar, which is good for U.S. travelers visiting the continent but crimps the ability of Europeans to fly across the Atlantic.
The upshot? Good prices for us. Aer Lingus, which is building Dublin as a European hub, has also extended its reach to both U.S. coasts. Its latest sale for spring and summer travel knocks fares down to as low as $799 roundtrip — and that includes a six-night car rental. And Aer Lingus' introductory price for nonstop flights to Dublin from Hartford, Connecticut, start at just $575 roundtrip. Those flights begin in the fall.
If you're looking for a premium class ride, check boutique carrier LaCompagnie for startlingly low prices to London and Paris. The small carrier often sells tickets on its all-business-class flights for $1,600 roundtrip. Air France and Lufthansa have been offering low rates on premium economy flights throughout Europe. And British Airways has just posted a sale on fall packages(flight and hotels) to Europe. Prices start at $999 a person.
Sub-$1,000 roundtrip fares for flights to Asia are no longer flights of fancy. Fast-growing Hainan Airlines has late-spring and early summer prices as low as $943 roundtrip from San Jose to Beijing. EVA Air of Taiwan is selling $890 roundtrip fares from its new gateway in Houston to four Chinese cities. It's also below $900 roundtrip to India from many U.S. cities served by Qatar Airways via its hub in Doha.
Perennial favorite Hong Kong is getting lots of attention this year, too. American Airlines is adding flights from Los Angeles after Labor Day, but Cathay Pacific continues to dominate. A coach class sale cuts Cathay's fares as low as $784 roundtrip until mid-August. If you want more comfort and can book by the end of the month for summer travel, Cathay is selling seats in its premium economy cabin for as little as $1,584 roundtrip. It is $100 more from Cathay's New York or Boston gateways.
The fall of South America
With the economies of Venezuela and Brazil in free fall, airlines are pulling flights off their schedule. Not even the summer Olympics in Rio will rescue the region from its doldrums. The good news? When you can find flights, prices should be excellent. On LAN, the major player in South America, fares from Los Angeles are as low as $633 roundtrip to Lima, Peru. LAN also has an $803 roundtrip to Santiago, Chile. It's $688 roundtrip from Washington's Dulles Airport to LaPaz, Bolivia.
South to a warmer place
Although it's wintertime during the U.S. summer, Australia offers a mild climate, a currency exchange rate in our favor and the bonhomie of the Aussies. The problem? Flights are extremely long and airfares have been on the high side. But there are values to be found. From Dallas/Fort Worth to Sydney, Qantas has been selling flights for as low as $1,349 roundtrip. New Zealand is a better value. From San Francisco or Los Angeles, select flights on Air New Zealand to Auckland this spring and summer are available for as little as $898 roundtrip. It's just $50 more to other Kiwi cities.