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Lowest airfares found six weeks before flight, study says

An Airlines Reporting Corp. study finds that passengers pay the lowest price, nearly 6% below the overall average fare, if they buy six weeks before their flight.

January 23, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • A traveler receives ticket assistance from an American Airlines customer service representative at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago last month. An Airlines Reporting Corp. study found that airline ticket prices begin to soar dramatically about a week before the day of travel, and can rise nearly 40% above the average price if passengers buy the ticket on the day of the flight.
A traveler receives ticket assistance from an American Airlines customer… (Tim Boyle, Bloomberg )

Even when buying airline tickets, timing is everything.

Passengers can get the lowest airfares if they buy six weeks before their flight, according to a study by Airlines Reporting Corp., an Arlington, Va., company that handles ticketing transactions between the nation's airlines and travel agents.

The study looked at millions of transactions for airline tickets over the last four years and found that passengers pay the lowest price, nearly 6% below the overall average fare, if they buy six weeks before their flight.

The study also showed that ticket prices begin to soar dramatically about a week before the day of travel, and can rise nearly 40% above the average price if passengers buy the ticket on the day of the flight.

"We're not advising people to purchase tickets only at this time during the cycle as there is no guarantee they will receive the lowest price of the year," said Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics for the firm. "It is just that the data indicates we have seen this pattern over the last four years."

Onboard Wi-Fi could generate $1.5 billion annually for airlines by 2015

There is a good reason why the nation's airlines are moving quickly to make wireless Internet an increasingly common onboard service, along with drinks, food and movies: It generates more revenue from fees.

Onboard Wi-Fi use grew from 4% in 2010 to 7% last year, and is expected to generate up to $1.5 billion annually by 2015, according to a study by In-Stat, an Arizona market analysis company.

About 45% of the nation's commercial air fleet is equipped with in-flight wireless Internet, with several airlines, including Virgin America and AirTran, offering the service fleetwide, according to In-Stat.

The nation's airlines collected about $155 million in 2011 from charges to use onboard Internet and are expected to collect $225 million this year, said Amy Cravens, a senior analyst for In-Stat.

As onboard Wi-Fi spreads throughout the industry, the study suggests, airlines will find more ways to make money from it, including new fees for Internet phone calls and video chatting from 35,000 feet in the air.

"The future of in-flight Wi-Fi will be less about convincing airlines of the merit and more about leveraging the network to provide a broader breadth of services," Cravens said.

TSA open to more testing on airport scanners

The full-body scanners used at more than 100 airports nationwide have been tested for safety by federal agencies, but the Transportation Security Administration says it is willing to conduct additional tests to address ongoing safety fears about the radiation emitted by the machines.

In the last three months, TSA chief John Pistole has changed his position — twice — on whether new tests are needed. But TSA spokesman Greg Soule said Pistole is now open to conducting a new test.

"TSA is committed to working with Congress to explore options for an additional study to further prove these machines are safe for all passengers," Soule said. There was no word from the TSA on when or who would conduct such tests if they are performed.

The safety of the scanners came up when the TSA recently issued a request for information from government vendors about the purchase of wearable dosimeters — devices that can measure radiation exposure.

"To ensure that its employees are provided safe and healthful working environments," the document said, the TSA "is planning to perform radiation measurement using personal and area dosimeters at selected federalized airports."

Even so, Soule said the TSA has made no final decision on whether to buy the equipment or do the employee testing. He called the request for information "a preliminary step to see what technology is available to meet our needs."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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