Fall Airfare Deals Likely to Start Earlier in August

A three-month break from airfare increases has ended, with Southwest raising fares by $4 to $10 round trip on most routes inside the U.S.

But not to worry. Fall airfare sales are just around the corner—and they're scheduled to be available earlier than last year.

Southwest Airlines passenger planes are seen at Chicago's Midway Airport in Illnois.
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images
Southwest Airlines passenger planes are seen at Chicago's Midway Airport in Illnois.

United Airlines led the latest price increase late last week. JetBlue Airways and Virgin America started raising fares Thursday. Southwest followed over the weekend.

Typically, when Southwest goes along with a fare increase, travelers can expect it to stick. And it didn't take long for network carriers Delta , American and US Airways to follow its lead.

The latest increase comes even as airlines have moved up fall fare sales that traditionally weren't available until the beginning of the school year. Starting Aug. 20, many airlines are planning to slash fares on their cheapest domestic seats by 10 to 20 percent on some routes for the fall, typically the slowest time of the year for air travel.

"Airlines only raise fares when the competition does the same and they feel consumers won't balk," says Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com. "They attempt from time to time to test both competitors and consumers. (It) appears for now they are comfortable with forward-looking bookings."

This is the fourth increase this year. Last year, airlines raised fares nine times.

That doesn't mean travelers should expect to see sales go away. "There's still times of the year when they have more capacity than they need, and they need to fill planes," says Kevin Schorr of Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, a Virginia consulting firm.

Paul Flaningan, a spokesman for Southwest, says the airline raised fares on non-sale tickets and excluded routes shorter than 500 miles.

"It continues to be a very competitive market," Flaningan said. "With costs rising and continued fuel cost fluctuation, the decision was made to match on all non-sale fares, excluding short-haul markets."

Jet fuel prices have gone down from their peaks, taking away one justification for higher prices. George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, points out, however, that some airlines already locked in their fuel buys at higher prices. "Lower prices don't help them," he says.

Seaney doesn't expect many more fare increases.

"Given the slower fall season, starting at the end of August, it is unlikely we will see another hike in the next few months," he says.