David Shepherd, the manager of Berkeley’s Northside Travel, looked up San Francisco-London round-trip fares on the agency’s airline computer system and had a good chuckle.
There was a United Airlines fare for $184. He searched for British Airways. Bingo: $184.
“Clearly, no one is going to go lower than this,” said Shepherd. “This is ridiculously low to begin with.”
We’ll see. Some airfares, both domestic and international, are at their lowest point in a decade, priced by airlines struggling to fill seats in the throes of a recession and as consumer confidence tumbles. These are fares – some of them 30 percent lower than this time a year ago – that will only be seen in a recession.
“We’re having a major worldwide distress sale,” said Tom Parsons, chief executive of BestFares.com, a Web site that concentrates on discount fares.
Deals are everywhere you turn in the airline industry. On Tuesday, American Airlines said it is offering a fare of $299 each way, with a round-trip purchase, for off-peak travel through the end of June from any American or American Eagle city in the U.S. to any of six destinations in Argentina and Brazil. Virgin America launches service from San Francisco to Orange County on April 30, at $59 one way.
BestFares.com has a family-of-four package to Sydney that includes airfare, five nights at the 4-star Marriott Hotel and all taxes starting as low as $799 round-trip per person. It’s from $899 if you stay at the five-star Sir Stamford at Circular Bay, a few minutes’ walk to the Opera House.
“With the dollar stronger, with 50 percent off airfare, you have wiggle room” to spend more on travel, said Parsons. “You can put more shrimp on the barbie. You could buy shrimp for your whole block.”
But even with bargains, conditions apply.
Take, for example, the $184 San Francisco-to-London fare, on both United Airlines and British Airways, on the computer at Northside Travel. When is a $184 fare not a $184 fare? It’s when a fuel surcharge of $222 is added along with the assorted travel and government fees, said Shepherd. So, he said, the actual ticket price for the nonstop flights is $545.03. Both are available until May 26.
“Frankly, that’s still not a bad price,” said Shepherd. “Actually, it’s amazing.”
Graeme Wallace, the chief technology officer at FareCompare.com, which tracks the rise and fall of fares, took a look at some of the seemingly remarkable prices available Tuesday: Continental Airlines, Houston to Frankfurt, Germany, round trip, $441; New York to Milan, $473; New York to Lisbon, Portugal, $367; New York to Dublin, Ireland, $303.
Wallace said he thinks the airlines will try to bump fares up in July and August, when there’s more demand, in part because that is the pattern. Scott Pinheiro, the president of Santa Cruz Travel, doesn’t buy that. He thinks bargain prices are here for the long run.
“Not only will they continue, I think very possibly they will be reduced even further,” said Pinheiro.
“It’s a good time for consumers,” he said. “If people have the money and have not gotten a notice they will be shut down in the next six weeks and did not get totally shellacked in the market, they will travel, because there is value out there.”
Rick Papa of Coos Bay, Ore., flew from San Francisco International Airport to South Korea on Tuesday. The Northwest Airlines round-trip fare was about $1,500, but he found one on Singapore Airlines for $677. There had been a glitch, however: He misspelled his wife’s name, Myong, when buying the ticket on the Internet and the airline charged him $100 to reissue the ticket.
“I even called the corporate office and got the standard reply,” said Papa. “We still got a good deal.”
Susan Goldman of Washington, D.C., was headed home Tuesday after a visit with her grandchild. Goldman has a bad right knee and wanted to fly first class. United Airlines would not upgrade her with frequent flier miles, so she got a first-class ticket on Virgin America for $1,100, a savings of $1,000 off the United Airlines price.
“I liked it a lot,” she said of the Virgin America service. “The accoutrements are nicer. I saved money and I’m going to do it again.”
San Francisco to London
United Airlines, British Airways
San Francisco to Seoul
San Francisco to Buenos Aires