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Airline tickets bucked the inflation trend in September. Don't expect it to last

Two big cost concerns are already starting to impact airlines with the holidays fast approaching.

MINNEAPOLIS — There are a lot of reasons why you might be hesitant to buy plane tickets right now, but if you're simply waiting to see if you can snag a deal on a holiday season flight, you might want to consider getting on board with the prices currently available.

"It's a good time to get a deal," said Kyle Potter, Executive Editor of ThriftyTraveler.com. "Big economic factors could ultimately influence the price of a plane ticket, and so it wouldn't hurt to lock in something now, especially if you're talking about traveling for Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's."

Potter says, right now, all airlines are facing increasing costs on two major fronts. The first is rising wages spurred on by a worker shortage, which is now compounded by the fact that, at the end of September, federal subsidies to offset those employee costs went away.

"That subsidy gave airlines a lot of runway to keep plane ticket costs low," Potter said. "I don't know quite yet how that's going to shake out."

Added pressure from rising fuel costs is also threatening the airlines' bottom lines. A warning from the Delta Airlines CEO about fuel costs on Wednesday immediately caused its stock price to fall.

Kent Erdahl: "So if someone is looking at buying their first plane ticket for a holiday travel season in a while, what would you tell people to be prepared for?"

Potter: "There are fewer options out there, and you might need to be a little bit more flexible than you needed to be just a few years ago."

Erdahl: "Speaking of flexibility, with the Southwest Airlines meltdown last week, which resulted in more than two thousand cancelled flights, are you concerned that travel is maybe going to become more unreliable in the months to come?" 

Potter: "Yeah, it's a huge concern. I've been thinking a lot that it's high-time for the United States government do something that gives passengers some rights, some guaranteed rights when they buy a plane ticket. Today, the only right that you and I have is if our airline cancels our flight, we're entitled to get a refund and airlines don't even do a good job with that.

"These airlines are so eager to carry as many passengers as they can, they are stretched so incredibly thin, that if you introduce one problem into the equation the entire operation can fall apart really, really fast. I do fear it's only a matter of time before the next airline melts down."

But if you're not as worried about your itinerary changing, or flying on the busiest days, Potter says you should always be able to find some great deals, no matter when you decide to shop.

"In my opinion, competition is always the biggest factor in driving down prices," Potter said. "Probably more than ever, airlines are going to be at each other's throats trying to win back some of the business that they've lost over the past 18 months. That dynamic is not going anywhere any time soon. That is a huge win for people who like a cheap plane ticket."

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