I hope you had a happy New Year and that you didn’t celebrate too crazily because it is the most overrated holiday of the year, every year.
I was in New York and it was about zero degrees.
When I was growing up, New Year’s was like this …
I would sit at home (my parents would let me stay up late) and on our black-and-white TV I got a chance to watch Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians play from the Waldorf Astoria and watch the ball drop from the Astor Hotel.
Actually, in those days my mom had all this Revereware cookery (you know those pots with the copper bottoms) and I got to go in the kitchen and grab a large ladle and bang the pots around for about 10 minutes and go to bed.
You know what? Many, many years later that’s still the preferred way to go for me, because I do not want out be out there among the crazy people—especially this year because there wasn’t that much to celebrate anyway, other than the fact that it was no longer 2008, a year in which everything melted down, and it is still melting down, and we can only hope it turns around.
That’s what we have to celebrate now. We have to basically focus on making it better.
Now, the good news is 2009 is a buyer’s market if you’re traveling. A huge buyer’s market!
We’re talking airfares as low as $49 in some markets and it’s going to get better. Why? Well, the fourth and first quarters are always an off-period of time, but that has been accelerated at warp speed by the economy.
I’m looking at some fares that were given to me just a few hours ago by the folks at Travelzoo—I mean … Burbank to Las Vegas: $55, Chicago to Los Angeles: $93.
How about this? Los Angeles to Sydney: $499.
Now, these are one-way fares, but even so, that is a great deal, and you’re going to find that across the board, not just for limited time offers. You’re going to find deals like that for the months of January, February and March, and most of these sales will not even expire (in terms of the actual days you can fly) until maybe April 15 and they might even be extended further.
Even though fuel prices are down, people are sitting home right now just trying to figure out what they’re going to do.
You may have heard me talk about a deal we saw in which Norwegian was selling seven-day cruises for $249—that’s about $35 a night, including three meals.
If you do the math, you’d be better off leasing out your apartment and booking four consecutive cruises on that ship, and just never leave your cabin!
You’d make money, and you’d eat really well. You’d come off looking like the Michelin tire man, because you know how much you eat on a cruise ship. The bottom line here is that those fares are even going lower. Norwegian has another deal—and this will give you an idea of how cash-starved the cruise lines are—where they’ll give you a $500 onboard credit for anything you do on the ship.
Now, this is the interesting part: that deal is good through 2011. So, what are the cruise lines doing?
They’re asking you to pay in advance for a cruise you may not actually take for three years (which basically gives them an interest-free loan), but as long as you cruise, it’s a total buyer’s market. Now I’m not suggesting that you don’t go until 2011. I want you to go now, but the fact that they’re even offering that deal, and making it valid through the year 2011, is amazing.
I mean, look at these numbers from the year 2008: the airline industry worldwide lost about $5.2 billion and, of course, in the process, they began charging for everything short of breathing and going to the bathroom.
The bottom line, though, is oil has dropped precipitously and airfares are still low, because it’s that time of the year. I flew from New York to Los Angeles last week on flights that are normally completely full because it’s the tail end of the holiday season, but I had an entire row to myself!
When was the last time that ever happened? This is the time for you to start thinking about redeeming frequent-flier miles for the simple reason that there’s that kind of availability. This is the one time the airlines might actually start releasing seats for those people who have earned those miles.
If you think nobody’s flying in this country, how many people are going to Paris right now? How many people are going to Amsterdam? To Rome? This is the dead week, right?
The first week of the year is usually the dead week, but this year it is going to be the dead month. So, take advantage of that, because if oil goes back up or we do a little bounce-back (which we will do, by the way, because we’re resilient when it comes to travel) and we start traveling again, the law of supply and demand kicks in and the prices go up. It’s really as simple as that.
We’re now investigating that incident in Denver last month where that Continental Airlines 737 slid off the runway and burned.
The investigators were able to get the black boxes very quickly. Those are the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. They’re analyzing the data.
They’re still not convinced yet that the plane ever left the ground before it slid off the runway. No one was killed, though people were injured, including the pilot, and he’s been interviewed.
The good news is once again we went the entire year without a major airline commercial fatality. You can’t say that about any other industry, and much as I whine and scream and get mad at certain maintenance procedures and the age of the airplanes and outsourcing of maintenance, the bottom line remains: 12 months without a single fatal accident.
That is a statistic that may not improve, but we just hope they’ll be able to maintain it, and it’s still remarkable to me that it’s so good.
Now, we do have an aging airline fleet. I have to tell you, some of these planes, when you get on them they look like duct-tape specials. Not all the bathrooms work, not all the air vents work, not all the reading lights work, some of the seats don’t recline, but we fly safely.
And now as we get into the winter months with weather and snow and the big, bad one—ice—it remains to be seen if we can get through that period of time, but the bottom line is, knock on as much wood as you can right now, we had a remarkably safe year.
By Peter Greenberg, from Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
Read more from Peter’s Travel Detective blog here.
Learn more about travel safety & security.