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How Knowing Where airlines are adding service can help you find cheaper flights

I’ve written often about the tricks I use to find cheap flights, most notably in this post. But I’ve never written about the one that Scott McCourtney of the Wall Street Journal recently featured in a story called, “How Sly Travelers Cut Their Airfares in Half.” In short, if you know that an airline will be introducing flights to serve a new route, you know that competition on that route can be expected to go up and prices will likely go down. “Airlines announce new service six to nine months before actually starting flights,” writes Scott. “As with any business, it can take time to build customer traffic. When a new flight comes online, carriers must fill thousands of empty seats. Competitors often already have direct flights on that route.” Therefore, all flights on that route will likely be cheaper after the start of the new service. And so “savvy travelers,” he continues, “have long known to look for announcements of new service to find cheap places to go, and to pounce on cheaper tickets if they know they’ll fly a certain route and hear of new service.”

One way to keep up with such announcements is to check airline websites, news publications and other travel hubs (like JohnnyJet.com) for news of new airline service. If you read that an airline is adding service between two cities, you’ll know to look for flights between those cities after the new service begins. No specific price drop is guaranteed, but there’s no harm in checking. The savings can be real. For example, per Scott:

“Southwest Airlines announced nonstop flights between San Diego and Maui starting April 14. Hawaiian and Alaska airlines already fly that route nonstop. But two weeks before Southwest’s flight launches, the lowest round-trip fare available for a four-day trip was $818 in a recent spot-check. Two weeks after the new flights start, the lowest round-trip fare for a four-day trip was only $303, a 63% decline.”

Less directly, you can also use tools like “Price graph” on Google Flights and fare alerts to seek out price drops on a specific route over time. If new airline service brings about a big change to fares on the route, the better fares will turn up that way. As I write in this post on finding cheap flights, being flexible with your dates is a huge advantage. If you know where airlines are adding new service and when, your flexibility may help you save even more.

Why new airline service in 2020 may lead to more cheap flights than usual

In the WSJ story (via MSN), Scott notes that the coming year may be a good year to use this tip. “The strategy is likely to pay extra dividends [in 2020],” he says, “when the Boeing 737 MAX gets cleared to fly again, and the new flights won’t be a six- or nine-month wait. Boeing has built and parked hundreds of jets that will get delivered to airlines once the grounding is lifted. New service announcements will drop rapid-fire once the MAX is cleared. That likely won’t come before March, as regulators work to certify the plane is safe with Boeing’s proposed fixes. And it will take months to get the hundreds of mothballed planes airworthy and worked into airline schedules.

“But it will be a new-route jackpot that travelers have never really seen before. Southwest, for example, will be adding more than 75 airplanes to its schedule. That’s like adding another small airline to U.S. competition. And you won’t have to fly a MAX to get cheap tickets, in case you’re apprehensive about trusting a plane that has had two fatal crashes and been grounded for nearly nine months. As those planes come into service, tickets on existing flights on those routes likely will drop.”


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