On sale now: airline seats. Act quickly.

football-game.jpgDe-mand. It’s like the cheering crowds at a football game yelling de-fense. Only now it’s a weaker refrain. And getting fainter. Travel agent sales reported through the airline industry clearing house, ARC, show their first monthly double-digit decline in volume – almost 12% – in years and the most dramatic drop in October sales since October 2001, the month that followed 9/11. And these transactions tend to be advance purchases.

So the airlines have begun their sales, and even though they’re from a higher base price than just a few months ago, they’re out there. Southwest Airlines, the low-fare leader of the entire world (sort of), just announced its third short-term sale for travel right around the holidays as well as in the slow shank of the New Year. It launched a sale a week or so ago – its first pricing promotion in five months and quickly followed with two more. Others have come in with sales of their own. Fare watcher Rick Seaney of farecompare.com says, “I can’t recall three airfare sales from Southwest in a quarter, let alone a week.”

Further evidence of a demand drop comes from the number of visits to airline websites. Hitwise, the Internet metrics site, said that last week,

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overall traffic to 47 airline websites was down 11%, year on year. Hitwise research director Heather Dougherty added that discount carriers have experienced a larger decline in visits, 14%, as compared to traffic to major carriers, which declined 7% last week from the previous year. Searches for ‘cheap flights’ increased 28% for the week ending November 8, she said, “suggesting that there is demand for the right (or cheapest) prices.”

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