Reader Mailbag — You ask, I answer

Karol from Alarming asks:

    [W]ith the prospect of war looming as it is, and with the possibility that airfares will go down when the war starts, do you think I should buy my tickets [from New York to Chicago at the end of March] now or wait another week or so?

I think you should go ahead and ticket now.

Your specific flights are cheap.

Depending on the particular flights you’re looking for
on those days, I’m seeing a roundtrip fare of $166 on
United from LaGuardia or Newark to Chicago non-stop
for your days. I also see $175 on American.

Will fares drop more?

Even in the event of war, it’s unlikely that the fares will drop below what you can get the tickets for now. You’ll want to book your ticket 14 days advance to get the best fare in any case.

My hunch is that in the event of war with Iraq, last minute trips might be available at the same price at 14 day advance fares — but probably not for less.

Another possibility is that fares won’t drop at all. Immediately after 9/11 they certainly didn’t (it took a couple of months, actually). The reason was that anyone traveling then REALLY NEEDED to be traveling, so the idea was that they were probably pretty INSENSITIVE to price. The airlines figured that lowering prices wouldn’t get more people in the air, so lowering prices would have reduced total revenue. It’s by no means guaranteed that fares will drop right away.

No risk to ticketing now – if fare drops, get the difference back

Separately, if fares drop later you can always get a travel voucher back for the difference! If published fares (the kind you get by calling the airline on the phone and booking… not necessarily website fares) drop, you just have to call the airline and ask for a voucher in the amount of the difference. You actually could get CASH back, but that would mean re-ticketing the reservation which would mean you’d lose $100 in the process.

Don’t worry about a war – you can change your plans even on cheap tickets

One other thing to note is that United, USAirways, American,
and Continental have all announced that in the
event of military action against Iraq, all change fees
are waived. As long as you call in advance, you call
also preserve the full value of your ticket for use on
a new ticket through the end of September.

Thanks for reading!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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