Booking airfares

Airfares are on the radar for this week’s Travel SOS with Kay O’Sullivan answering questions from two members about the cost of flying. 

Q. Rod
As the price of oil has dropped below $40 a barrel, when do you think that airlines will eliminate their fuel surcharges? And will the difference be refunded to passengers who have bought early-bird tickets?

Q. Peter
Is there really a best day to book flights or is it just an urban myth? Surely airlines can’t be that fickle about pricing where making a booking on a certain day makes a difference to your fare?

A. What goes up must come down, so goes the saying. But unfortunately that doesn’t apply to airfares.

I asked aviation industry analyst Tom Ballantyne for his thoughts on Rod’s question and whether airlines would refund the surcharge. “Probably not” was his answer. “Airlines operate on such low margins they are more likely to use the fall in oil prices to win back money they lost while the price was high,” explains Tom, who has been writing about the business of flying for more than 30 years. 

“While carriers did put on a fuel surcharge when the oil price was high, that surcharge didn’t actually cover all of the extra costs they were paying. And there’s another aspect: while the price of a barrel of oil has dipped below $40, most airlines have a lot of their jet fuel hedged up to six months ahead at a far higher price than that – often as high as $70, $80 or even higher. So they’re stuck with that until the hedge contract runs out.”

As for Peter’s query, Tom says there is no particular day for bargains. “Best thing is just to keep an eye out for the ads offering specials. Obviously lowest fares can be obtained during off peak periods. And, of course, you should use one of the apps or websites that give you a wide range of fares offered by different airlines so you can compare what’s on offer,” he says.

As I’ve said before, I use Skyscanner.com.au a lot. It searches millions of flights and comes up with the cheapest option. Also, it’s worth knowing that travel agents get the heads up from airline companies about upcoming cheap fares, so it pays to establish a relationship with an agent.

Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected]

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has worked for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.

Written by kayo



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