The 'perfect storm' of low airfares - and five ways to find them
Travel tips & advice
With a surge in seats and a fall in ticket prices, this is a stellar time to fly - provided you book smartly.
Could 2017 be the cheapest ever year in which to fly?
Increased competition, falling ticket prices and a surge in capacity has led several experts to talk about a "perfect storm" for airline passengers.
"Travellers today have an overwhelming number of options to more destinations for lower prices than at any point in the recent past," according to a recent report by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation.
Last year, fares fell an average of 4pc in Europe, it found.
That's nothing compared to the drop in prices at Ryanair, whose average fare plummeted 17pc to €33 in the last quarter. The fall was "exacerbated by the sharp decline in Sterling following the Brexit vote," it says.
Passenger numbers continue to rise, and its route network is growing, but Ryanair expects fares to fall another 15pc in the coming months.
Recent terror attacks in Turkey and North Africa have fanned the flames of airline competition to popular destinations like Spain and Portugal.
Cheap fuel prices have further enabled the discounting, and long-haul disruptors like WOW air and Norwegian are feeding into the mix too.
When Aer Lingus announced its latest transatlantic route to Miami, for example, lead-in fares were quoted at €299 each way. Around the same time, WOW announced one-stop flights via Reykjavik from €169.99 each way.
"We seem to be in the heart of a perfect storm," as US expert Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor with CBS News, put it recently, adding that "those low prices may be here for a while, especially on international flights."
Ireland is at the eye of the storm. Last week, Dublin Airport was announced as the fastest-growing major airport on the continent in 2016.
One day, Michael O'Leary has said, you could even fly for free.
5 tips for finding lower airfares
1. Book at least 21 days ahead...
"Generally, the lowest tickets can be found if you purchase tickets on weekends, more than 21 days in advance," Expedia says.
Another study, by global flight search website, Skyscanner.ie, found that seven weeks in advance was the optimum time to bag a low fare.
2. Choose your travel window wisely...
After analysing millions of flights out of Ireland, Skyscanner found November to be the cheapest month in which to fly from this country, with savings of up to 14pc to be made against average price flights.
At the other end of the scale, the summer holiday month of July was by far the most expensive time to fly from Ireland, it found.
3. Never fly on a Friday
Midweek is a cheaper time to fly, as you avoid rush hour periods for both business and leisure travellers (Friday to Sunday). "In most parts of the world, trips with Saturday-night stays generally have the lowest prices," Expedia says.
4. Refine your searches
We've all spent time tearing our hair out in search of cheap fares. There are tools you can bookmark to avoid future hair loss, however.
Ryanair's Fare Finder (found under 'Plan' on Ryanair.com, followed by 'Explore', in the menu bar) allows you to search by budget, for example.
Skyscanner's 'Whole Month', meanwhile, allows you to search for the cheapest fares across an entire month. To use it, click the 'Departure Date' box to call up a calendar view, and switch between 'Specific Date' and 'Whole Month'.
5. Don't forget the bags
Bags, allocated seating and food all add significantly to the base cost of an airfare, so if you are travelling with luggage, it may be worth comparing prices with carriers that include checked bags in the fare, such as SAS or CityJet.
There are no golden rules, of course.
Well, except one - whatever about the best time to buy a flight, the absolute worst thing you can do is wait to the last minute.