Airfare hacks: Fares will not free-fall forever with news of vaccines, so plan now

Fares are dynamic and can spike easily when demand goes up and fare algorithms kick in.
Fares are dynamic and can spike easily when demand goes up and fare algorithms kick in.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Airfares have gone into free fall since the pandemic outbreak early this year, with some fares up to half off.

But they may not stay depressed for long as positive news of vaccines have been emerging.

Skyscanner revealed that Bangkok, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Seoul - these were Singapore's top five searches for destinations in 2018/19 - saw plummeting fares for January next year.

Bangkok saw the steepest fall of 51 per cent (see table).

Industry insiders point out that airlines, when faced with excess capacity, tweak their fare structures downwards. In addition, some airlines allocate more seats to the lower-fare types to soak up capacity.

These come together to create a fare bonanza and higher availability of cheap tickets.

But the fares are dynamic and can spike easily when demand goes up and fare algorithms kick in.

For instance, Skyscanner observed that when news of the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble was first released on Oct 12, searches on its platform shot up 2,700 per cent compared with the previous week.

News emerged that some avid travellers even purchased tickets in advance, intending to change travel dates if necessary when more details of the air travel bubble were available.

When the full details were announced a month later, SIA's economy fares tripled on designated flights with the cheapest fares rapidly snapped up.

Some flights were sold out within hours.

"The pent-up demand will cause airfares to swing up when travel restrictions ease.

"Coupled with the low fares today, prices can readjust 20 per cent to 40 per cent rapidly. Demand can double, but flight schedules can't change overnight," says a flight planner for an Asian carrier, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The postponement of the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble has disappointed many.

Yet, travellers grit their teeth and grip their passport, remain hopeful and are still raring to go.

A quick check on SIA's website on Sunday showed no spate of cancellations, with next month's flights fully taken up by prior bookings and those who have rescheduled due to the news. Even fares for January next year are still at least 20 per cent higher than pre-travel bubble fares.

Of greater impact is the hoped-for vaccine.

Positive developments are gathering momentum, since the breaking news on Nov 9 of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, followed a week later by another vaccine announcement by Moderna.

Expecting a travel revival, equity investors quickly piled on airlines' stocks - SIA's share price soared as much as 21 per cent during intra-day trading on Nov 9.

Since then, searches for next year's spring and summer travel have soared.

"Our data shows a 19 per cent week-on-week increase in all searches from Singapore for travel between April 1 and Aug 31 next year, showing there is pent-up appetite for Singaporeans to get exploring again," notes Ms Jo McClintock, Skyscanner's senior global brand director.

So, it is time to start planning now as fares can only trend up.