After a scorching summer—both in terms of temperature and air travel costs—relief could be on the way for consumers, according to industry experts.
Analysts project airfares to drop 10 to 20 percent in late August, according to of airfare comparison site FareCompare.com While that's not entirely unexpected—prices tend to drop off a bit after the busy summer travel season—this year price breaks that usually happen in the fall are starting a bit earlier.
"Most of the savings are due to the end of peak travel season surcharges which all legacy carriers added for the summer travel season," Rick Seaney, co-founder and CEO of FareCompare.com, wrote in a recent report. "Once the fall season kicks in, surcharges will be dropped and low-cost carriers will match the larger airlines' lower ticket prices by cutting their base airfares."
But airlines are also starting to come to grips with the hard realities of a sluggish economy and unstable global outlook. Visions of planes packed to the brim and high prices through summer are starting to fade and airlines are changing their tack to attract customers.
"Economic realities include the chaotic conditions of certain European economies, slower-than-expected growth in China, and the big bellwether, the price of oil," Seaney says. Oil dipped below the $80 per barrel mark this year but has since been creeping up, adding yet more uncertainty to the economic landscape.
All the uncertainty has made consumers a bit skittish when it comes to opening their pocketbooks and they're finally letting airlines know ticket prices have gone too high by staying home. As a result a flurry of airfare sales have been flooding consumers' inboxes including one-day specials (JetBlue) and extensions of fare sale periods (AirTran, Southwest).
But while fares might be coming down, don't expect any breaks when it comes to baggage and ticket cancellation and change fees. According to experts, those are only likely to get worse, with a few airlines now even charging for carry-on luggage.
"If anything they're increasing in terms of the price and number of fees," says Alicia Jao, vice president of travel media at personal finance website NerdWallet. She adds that Southwest and JetBlue tend to be the best airlines overall when it comes to fees these days.
Heightened consumer awareness has somewhat stemmed the surge in revenue airlines were raking in as a result of more and higher fees, but some legislators are still advocating for more regulation of airline fees to protect consumers from being nickel-and-dimed.
But with the airline industry just starting to find its feet after years of bankruptcies and restructurings, some aren't so sure slapping more rules on the industry is the right solution. Still, protecting consumers from exorbitant, arbitrary fees is likely something Congress views as a priority as well.
"It's tough because the airline industry has been plagued with declining profits and it's just starting to get back into the black," Jao says. "I wouldn't advocate for anything that really hurts the industry from having a viable business model in the long run, but there really does need to be consumer protection in the area."
For those scouting travel deals now, experts say it's best to pounce now rather than later. Travelers hoping to fly in late summer or fall should book now, as the cheapest sales seats are limited to only about 10 percent of a plane's capacity.
Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter.