An anonymous airline executive gives up the goods about cheap airfare

Have you ever heard of a sale on airfare, tried to buy a ticket, and found that the cheap fare wasn't available? Did you book your flight early, but still feel like you paid an awful lot for the ticket? Do you think that you're getting the best rate on airfare by purchasing your ticket through a site like Orbitz or Travelocity or Expedia?

An industry insider gives us the real story behind airfares, and it's not encouraging. It seems that it all boils down to the luck of the draw. A select few will get a good rate, and the rest of us will have to take what we can get.

The nameless executive confirms that there are a very limited number of "sale seats" on each flight. The airlines aren't really required to designate a certain number of seats as sale seats when they advertise a sale. However, the rule of thumb is around 10% of the seats or a little less.

There will likely be more sale seats available on less popular flights, which are usually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Don't plan on getting a discounted seat on a Friday or Sunday. Apparently it is quite a badge of honor for an airline to advertise a huge fare sale, but then get tons of travelers with higher airfares.And beware of those online travel sites. They often aren't cheaper because airlines pay them fee every time they book a ticket, which is up to $10 per flight. If you find a good fair on one of those sites, go directly to the airline's site and see if you can't do better.

Air travel isn't fun for anyone anymore, and these cold hard facts about airfares don't make it any easier. But it seems there's not much we can do about it. I try to patronize airlines that offer better customer service, but often I find that I'm looking for the airline that is less bad than all the other bad airlines.

Forensic accountant Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations through her company, Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners honored Tracy as the 2007 winner of the prestigious Hubbard Award and her first book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud, will be on bookshelves in March 2008.
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