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AIRLINES: Fall fares falling?

There are forecasts for (slightly) lower airfares this coming fall. I’ll believe it when I see it. But be ready to book, anyway.

One of the writers in the travel industry for whom I have a lot of respect is consumer affairs expert Christopher Elliott. So when Chris says airfares could reach record lows this fall, I pay attention.

Knowing the airlines as we know them, I may be more than a little skeptical about that, but I still pay attention. And you should, too.

The factors behind his forecast are reasonable enough.

First, there’s the usual post-summer falloff in passenger traffic, what travel agents call the “shoulder season” — after Labor Day and before Thanksgiving. Families have wrapped up their summer vacations and the kids are back in school.

Then, there’s the matter of fuel. For once, it’s cheaper. With crude oil prices low and getting lower, the cost of jet fuel has been steadily dropping for the last couple of years.

With jet engines being the inherent gas guzzlers that they are, and airlines steadily replacing older aircraft with newer models sporting more fuel-efficient engines, that’s big.

To those points, now add the one that no one saw coming — a suspicious US Justice Department.

DOJ is investigating the possibility that airlines have colluded to take planes out of service to reduce the total number of available seats — and this artificially keep airfares higher.

Airlines taking older aircraft out of service has been a common occurrence over the last few years. but to the consumer, it just looked as if this was a step being taken by each airline to cut operating costs and keep fares where they are.

Apparently, someone at Justice thinks there’s more to it, specifically that airlines may have quietly conspired to send perfectly good airplanes to the “boneyard” to drive up prices.

Clearly, this is not the time to annoy Washington with higher shoulder-season fares.

So Chris definitely has logic and reason on his side in predicting a drop in airfares this fall.

Why then would IBIT be skeptical?

The airfares we’re talking about here are not total fares, only base fares, the bare minimum you can possibly pay for a flight.

And you already know that US airlines have spent the last five years piling on special fees to all but guarantee that you have to pay more than that.

The airlines made more than $3.5 billion last year in add-on fees alone. If they were serious about lowering your travel costs, they’d be reducing the cost of their add-on fees or even abolishing some of them.

Donald Trump has a better chance of being invited down to Mexico by Chapo Guzman for dinner and drinks.

The airlines will tell you, with some validity, that their expenses and overhead are such that they actually make very little in the way of a profit per flight — and that’s presuming the plane is full.

All of which leads me to believe that expected drop in fall airfares isn’t going to amount to very much in the end.

Still, if your schedule permits shoulder-season travel and Chris Elliott’s predicted price drop happens as expected, you might want to keep your credit card handy.

If you haven’t already done so, you also might want to register on an air travel Web site that will send you email or text message alerts when airfares to your chosen destination reaches a certain price. Three of the better ones are Kayak, Yapta and Airfarewatchdog.

Greg Gross is Publisher/Senior Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of Trips by Greg LLC, a travel agency specializing in cultural travel and tours.

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