January and February are the slowest travel months of the year. Planes that were packed during the holiday travel season could be just half to two-thirds full.
To fill their empty seats, airlines are offering abundant fare sales and ticket prices lower than those in recent months. AirTran and Southwest, among others, have launched widespread sales. Other airlines are running more low-key offers.
Fares for flights through mid-February can be as much as 50 percent lower than summer ticket prices. But they’re higher than this time a year ago, and likely to rise again soon as airlines cover higher fuel costs. So, would-be fliers will still have to do some homework.
Many winter sales are unadvertised. George Hobica of travel website airfarewatchdog.com says these so-called retaliatory fares are common in slower travel periods as airlines fighting over a limited amount of customers try to undercut one another.
Hobica says travelers need to set up fare alerts and carefully research prices to ensure they catch these stealth sales.
You can set alerts on airline websites, online booking sites Orbitz and Expedia or other travel sites like Travelzoo or TripAdvisor. It’s best to use more than one.
The routes with the most airline competition are where travelers will find the best deals. Currently, that includes flights between Denver and the East Coast and between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Flights between L.A. and Vegas are as low as $38 one-way, Hobica said. That’s less than an average tank of gas. Or the cost of checking two bags.