7-day advance airfares have become rarity

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Cutback by airlines leaves travelers looking for deals

By Katie Fairbank / The Dallas Morning News

The major airlines are quietly offering fewer seven-day advance fares, leaving travelers hunting for cheaper ticket prices.

Industry experts say it isn't an across-the-board move. The fares are still available in some cities and during some promotions. But the week-advance prices are getting harder to find.

"Today, the only way you can get a seven-day advance is if it's a market served by the low-cost carriers," said Tom Parsons, president and chief executive officer of BestFares.com, an Internet site and magazine that tracks airfares. "In the rest of the United States, they're gone, it's adios."

Analysts say airlines are cutting back on seven-day fares for several reasons.

"The biggest reason is to keep the business traveler from using them 'back-to-back.' They can save 35 to 40 percent off the full fare by doing that since those fares are very, very high," Mr. Parsons said.

"Back-to-back" ticketing is when business travelers buy two round-trip tickets to have a Saturday night stay. The traveler either throws away the unused legs or pays a processing fee to change the dates and uses them later.

The cutback in seven-day fares also forces leisure travelers to buy tickets earlier, which helps airlines assign the right-sized airplane to specific routes, Mr. Parsons said.

The move also will probably increase airline profits on each flight, said Ben Schubitz, vice president of sales for The World Travel Specialist Group.

"With higher fuel costs, they're doing everything they can to maximize the yield per plane," Mr. Schubitz said.

Travel agents say they started noticing fewer seven-day advance fares a couple of months ago.

"I have definitely noticed a trend that the airlines are taking out a lot of markets," said Brenda Overton, part owner of a travel agency. "I'll still see some, but it is usually a short-lived promotion or in markets that are very competitive.

"Across the board, they have been increasing the amount of advance purchase required to get excursion discounts."

Changing the purchase deadline can make a big difference in a ticket's price. Airfares get more expensive as the travel date nears, and walk-up fares cost the most.

The cheapest tickets have typically been available 21 days in advance, followed by the 14-, seven- and three-day fares. The airlines also post last-minute Internet promotions – usually on Wednesday, for travel the following weekend – that are the cheapest.

"There is no standard in the industry anymore," said Randy Peterson, publisher of Inside Flyer, a travel consumer magazine.

The airlines say travelers can still find the seven-day fares – sometimes.

"They really do come and go throughout our system as we match our competitors, sometimes in all of their markets, sometimes in some of their markets and sometimes in all of our markets," said John Hotard, a spokesman for Fort American Airlines.

Continental Airlines still offers the fares, but "not in all markets," spokeswoman Erica Roy said. "It's just in some.

"The past few years, the number of seven-day markets has been declining," she said. "That's mainly based on the popularity of the tickets. There wasn't a large demand for this kind of ticket."

The loss of seven-day fares is most noticeable on coast-to-coast flights, agents say. "The New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco flights are the ones we've noticed the most," Mr. Schubitz said.

A14-day fare on those flights is about $400, and the seven-day fare once averaged $800 to $1,000. "Without that seven-day advance, the tickets are around $2,000," Mr. Schubitz said.

Company budgets will probably suffer most from the changes because business travelers often aren't able to plan ahead, analysts said.

"It's definitely increased a lot in the last couple of months what business travelers have to pay," Ms. Overton said. "We try and help the consumers to find ways around it."