Let’s Make A Deal, 2010 Edition
Many pundits heralded 2009 as the year of the travel deal, and just as many have been warning that the deals won’t last. It’s true of course – most of the deals we’ve seen this year can’t last forever, and as soon as demand spikes, so will prices. But prominent travel columnist and ‘Travel Troubleshooter’ Christopher Elliott says that before travel prices recover, there will be at least another ‘year of the deal,’ and it might be an even better one. Recent research suggests flat overall travel demand in 2010, with both air travel and hotel demand slipping slightly. That means airfares should stay low, and hotels will continue to either drop rates or sweeten the pot with incentives to fill their rooms. On the cruise side, ships have to sail at least close to full, so the dramatic discounts we’ve seen this year are likely to continue. There’s already plenty of evidence of that. Elliott says to watch out for more travel companies following the successful lead of the airlines and ‘unbundling’ rates, so he advises always asking for the full price before booking. A couple more tips: Vegas hotel rates are expected to drop even further with new properties coming online; and ‘opaque’ websites where you don’t find out your specific hotel until after booking will continue to offer bargain-basement deals, as hoteliers fill rooms without the indignity of having to advertise deep discounts.
High Class In Borrowed Shoes
Cash doesn’t buy class, but the deep discounts in travel pricing this year have brought together some unlikely bedfellows, especially in the cruise sector, where pricing has dropped to previously unseen levels, from the big mainstream brands right up to the clubbiest of luxury lines. Seatrade Insider recently reported comments from luxury line executives who said they’re seeing an influx of passengers who have ‘traded up’ from mass market products to avoid the influx of lower-income earners who can now afford entry-level cruising. The publication quotes a luxury cruise retailer as saying: “We have new clients now who — unhappy with the kind of people the low prices have attracted to the larger brands — have decided to pay the extra for a luxury cruise to get away from them.” It’s class warfare on the high seas! There’s no reports yet of luxury cruise regulars being affronted by mass market upgrades using the wrong spoon for the sorbet, but perhaps they’re just keeping a stiff upper lip.
Clearing The Air
Airlines make an easy target for criticism over CO2 emissions. They are highly visible and their airport homes are a convenient setting for high-profile protests. While estimates suggest the contribution of the aviation industry to overall CO2 emissions is somewhere around 2%, it has significantly increased in the past couple of decades, and there are fears the pattern could continue. As The Guardian reported this week, the industry has not been particularly looking forward to December’s Copenhagen 2009 Climate Conference, fearing an onslaught of environmentalists with a ‘tax the pax’ agenda. To attempt to pre-empt an ambush, aviation honchos led by British Airways CEO Willie Walsh appeared before world leaders at a U.N. Climate Change forum in New York this week, armed with a pledge from airlines, airports and manufacturers to cut industry emissions by 50% by 2050. Airlines were exempted from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has added fuel to the furor, so the industry is hoping its dramatic proposals are well-received in New York and will smooth the waters a bit before Copenhagen. BA’s Walsh told the UN Forum: “Our proposals represent the most environmentally effective and practical means of reducing aviation’s carbon impact…” What Walsh may have wanted to say but didn’t is something like this: This industry will lose $11 billion this year. If it keeps going like this you guys will have to take a steamship to your next conference/protest. And the aviation emission crisis will be solved.
Keep Your Wig On
If you’re going to completely lose it, your best choice of venue is somewhere other than an airport or on an airplane. As CNN reported this week, authorities take misbehaviour in the skies very seriously these days. Fines and penalties are much stiffer, and airlines have frequently demonstrated their willingness to divert a flight to get rid of unruly passengers. Interference with a flight crew can result in a prison term of up to 20 years and fines up to $250,000 in the U.S. Lesser civil offences can earn fines of $25,000. And if you force a flight to be diverted, you can expect a bill for that too. Airlines are training staff to defuse confrontations, which some say are more common due to stress-inducing airport security and lengthy flight delays. The tougher rules may be having some impact, however, as both American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration report a dip in the number of unruly passengers.
One Way Or Another
Most of us are used to travelling on round-trip flights with the same airline. The idea of flying in one direction with one carrier and returning on another often doesn’t occur to us. But it’s worth a look. As business travel columnist David Grossman reported this week in USA Today, airline pricing is very scientific these days. Capacity control is paramount, as airlines want to fly with as many full seats as possible. They’ll start off selling an allotment of lower-fare seats, and raise the fares when those are gone. So sometimes, your outbound flight might be priced at $200, but the return is $350. If your dates are flexible you can shop for a better fare for the return, but if not, it may be worth trying another airline for the return flight on your preferred schedule.
Photo Credits: fstop123, PeskyMonkey, BeholdingEye, sdominick, narvikk