The cost of flying out of Boston this summer has increased an average of 7 percent from last summer, as airlines cut flights and increase fares to boost profits and offset soaring fuel costs over the winter.
From Logan International Airport, the average ticket price in July is $397, slightly below the national average of $418, but up from $372 in 2011, according to the travel discount site Hotwire.
Prices have climbed steadily for the past three years, following a big drop in 2009, when many people stopped flying as a result of the recession. In Boston, airfares have jumped by nearly a third since then, but are only slightly higher than in 2008, when they averaged $386.
“The airlines would call it back to normal,” said Clem Bason, president of Hotwire Group,
Even though fuel prices are falling, analysts don’t expect airfares to follow. Some argue that airfares need to keep rising to keep airlines solvent.
‘The airlines would call it back to normal.’
Collectively, airlines lost $1.7 billion in the first quarter of the year – the bulk of it by the bankrupt American Airlines. Adjusted for inflation, airfares have fallen nearly 12 percent since 2000, including fees for checked luggage, food, and other amenities once included in the price of ticket, according to the industry group Airlines for America.
“If the airline industry doesn’t maintain profitability, we’re going to see fewer airlines, and then you’ll really see higher fares,” said George Hobica, president of the airfare deals site Airfarewatchdog.
Airlines have continued to cut capacity, which allows them to raise fares as demand for seats holds steady. The number of available seat miles, the airlines’ measure of capacity, is projected to be 12 percent lower at the end this year than it was in 2007, according to Airlines for America.
Airlines are also selling fewer seats at lower prices as they turn more coach seats into higher-priced sections with extra legroom, said Linda Doherty, a travel agent at the Travel Collaborative in Cambridge.
“The airlines haven’t raised their airfare, they’ve just sold out of the lower airfare,” she said.
The best way to get the cheap seats?
Book a year in advance if you can, Doherty advises, especially if you’re planning to fly during the holidays or over school vacation weeks.
Otherwise, people end up in a frenzy of last-minute searching.
“They start banging the keys and checking airfares,” she said, “and they can’t believe that it’s $1,200 to Miami.”
Hobica advised that people take advantage of new federal regulations that allow travelers to hold a reservation without paying for 24 hours, and use that time to shop around for a better deal.
Tom Davis, a 55-year-old software developer from Marlborough, has noticed big price increases for flights between Boston and Washington, D.C., which he said have jumped from $100 to $200 round trip. On his most recent journey to Washington, he flew in to Baltimore to save money and took the train to the capital.
“It’s annoying,” he said of the 40-minute train ride, “but it’s the price you pay for a low-cost airport.”
Despite the steady rise in ticket prices, there are always deals to be had. Fares to Europe should go down in the fall, said Hotwire’s Bason, particularly to countries where the economy is faltering, such as Spain, Greece, Italy, and France.
After the Olympics, London should be a bargain, too, Bason said, since hoteliers will want to fill all the rooms they added to accommodate extra visitors during the event.
“We may have the best set of deals to and from Europe from the US that we’ve seen in many, many years,” he said.