Read the fine print before buying airline tickets in installments
Airfares have been inching downward in recent months, thanks to lower fuel costs and more seats on new planes. The new lower prices are tempting many consumers to consider once-in-a-lifetime trips that would have previously been out of reach for them.
Those same would-be travelers are now facing temptation from a trend that lets people book their flights and pay for them in installments. Basically, you can now put your plane tickets on layaway.
The idea of layaway has been making a comeback lately. When you want to make sure you get an in-demand, big-ticket item, layaway allows you to claim it for a fraction of its final price, and then make small payments over time. When you’re done paying, you take your purchase home. It’s a concept popular with parents planning for holidays and couples shopping for engagement rings.
But does it make good financial sense?
CheapAir.com lets you take out a loan for your flight and pay it back over three, six or 12 months. The business model is aimed at people who don’t use credit cards, but it’s also for those who just can’t afford that flight to France all at once. A similar philosophy is in place at startup site Airfordable.com, where travelers pay a third of their ticket costs up front, then pay the rest off in monthly or biweekly installments.
Major carriers like American Airlines have had layaway-esque programs for years, but they usually require travelers to apply for an airline credit card to qualify.
These new offerings open air travel up to people who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – charge their fares in the past, usually because of bad credit. Buying tickets well in advance is usually a surefire way to get the best deals, too – even if you can’t pony up for the whole amount at the moment.
But when you look a little more closely, paying in installments has its drawbacks. A CheapAir loan is based on your credit history, with interest charged between 10 percent and 30 percent. Airfordable doesn’t charge interest, but it tacks on a flat 20 percent fee. In the end, the average traveler might not be much better off paying in installments than putting tickets on a credit card and paying them off that way.
An even better option is to squirrel away the funds for trips using a targeted savings account. You can even set up your direct deposit to direct a set amount from each paycheck, keeping your travel money separate and insulated from your everyday spending while you watch it grow.
That way, when you do purchase tickets online, you can pay your card off immediately and avoid taking that interest hit. You might have to put off your trip for a while if you want to get early-bird fares several months before takeoff. But it means you’ll have more spending money – or even more nights in a hotel – when you get there.
Paying for airfare a little bit at a time is a great idea when it’s earning interest for you. It’s not so great when you’re tied into a high-interest loan or paying more than you have to for your seat.