Airfares touching down in Aspen |

Airfares touching down in Aspen

Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” It appears that competition between airlines and economic uncertainty have resulted in good deals for tourists coming to Aspen.

Two airlines serving the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport ” Frontier and United ” are reducing their prices to entice customers who have decided to stick close to home instead of taking a ski vacation.

“We’re seeing fares tumbling like we’ve never seen before,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency and the local business community’s liaison with the airlines. “Airline pricing is the purest form of supply and demand.”

It wasn’t even four months ago that Tomcich predicted that, with surging fuel costs, airlines would jack up their prices. He cautioned people in August who were planning to fly this winter to grab a good fare when they saw it because it might not last.

However, reduced fares ” some dramatic ” were found this past Sunday on United and Frontier’s websites, compared to a similar search conducted by The Aspen Times on Aug. 29. (see chart).

“Things have changed a lot,” Tomcich said. “What a difference six months make. Then, we were talking about whether Aspen is immune to an economic downturn.”

It appears Tomcich was correct in his assumption this past summer that that if bookings appear slow, the airlines would be forced to react.

Airfares might be lower than they were a few months ago, but it’s certainly not because of fuel prices ” airlines at the time locked in oil pricing at $120 a barrel, fearing that it would continue to rise.

But with oil now at $60 a barrel and more supply than demand, airlines are once again feeling the pain. And they are coming up with creative ways to make up for the shortfall.

“Airline pricing has everything to do with market forces,” Tomcich said. “Now there’s a laundry list of al a carte fees … combined, some of them are more than the price of a ticket.”

He pointed to Allegiant Air, which is offering $39 one-way fares from Grand Junction to Las Vegas. But with a $30 bag fee, a $12.50 “customer service” fee and a $15 seat assignment fee, the original fare is no longer such a deal.

Like Allegiant, many airlines are tacking on fees ” first it was charging for checked luggage; now there’s a fee for seat assignments.

Still, travelers can find favorable fares on United and Frontier’s websites for the 2009 season.

“There are more troughs than peaks for bookings,” Tomcich said. “They are going to drop those fares to fill the seats.

“They’re being almost surgical about scheduling their flights.”

But in some cases, prices have increased dramatically the week between Christmas and New Year’s ” a time that is Aspen’s bread and butter. Tomcich noted that there are last-minute deals to be had but they can be difficult to find on the Internet.

“They want you to hunt and peck for the best price,” he said, adding a travel agent might be the best bet as prices are changing daily, if not hourly.

Also a plus for Aspen is that the number of local flights have increased while many airports have seen a reduction.

“Supply in Aspen has increased beyond what I ever expected,” Tomcich said.

Airline service at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport this winter will be up 14 percent, based on currently scheduled flights.

Aspen now has more than 200,000 seats scheduled this upcoming winter from December to April as a result of several recent additions and upgrades. That not only represents a 14 percent overall increase from last year, but it also will be the most seats offered into Aspen since the 1997-’98 ski season, Tomcich said.

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