Airlines are capping prices for last-minute flights out of Florida, but travelers can't count on snaring a seat before carriers cease operations ahead of the storm's arrival.
Consumers took to social media this week to complain about price gouging out of Florida ahead of the Category 5 storm — showing screenshots of examples, such as a $1,738 United flight between Miami and Indianapolis and a $2,370 American flight between Miami and Los Angeles. The latest forecasts project the "potentially catastrophic" storm could make landfall in south Florida this weekend.
Airfare experts say the price changes aren't an attempt by the airlines to capitalize on desperate travelers, but rather, an unfortunate combination of regular airline practices that penalize last-minute bookings. (Although that's still cold comfort for anyone trying to evade Hurricane Irma.)
"I don't think they're gouging," said George Hobica, publisher of travel site AirfareWatchdog.com. "Especially in this day and age, where social media can be so cruel, an airline isn't going to take a chance on that."
Airlines often set up fare structures so that pricing jumps 21, 14 and three days out from departure to capitalize on last-minute business travelers, said Alex Chang, a data scientist for fare-tracking site Hopper. Floridians looking to get out ahead of Irma are in that window.
Airlines also price seats in a variety of ticket classes, and the least expensive ones typically sell out first.
"Prices overall will go up, simply because of how they're structured," Chang said. "Because people want to get out, suddenly there are no more seats or only expensive seats left."