For a trip to Europe we usually book 4-6 months in advance to get the best airfare. For a trip in May, we kept waiting for a better airfare which never materialized. Once we booked, we found that most of the seat selection was limited - many flights were nearly full. Just curious - what do airlines do when flights are mostly booked two months out. Do they add more flights?
Takeoff and landing "slots" at international airlines are so severely limited that they are considered a valuable resource, to be traded like gold. An executive can't just glance at a weekly list of tickets sold and decide to throw on another flight or two even if the airplanes were available. Swapping bigger planes into the busiest routes is a scheduling process that takes time and involves complicated staffing decisions. So last-minute bargains are nice when they happen but don't bet on it happening much in this era of sophisticated load management (you're the load.)
No, just increase the price for the remaining seats. The airline is very happy. The airlines via mergers and consolidation have gone through a massive reduction of available seats for international travel. I read various numbers in the range of 30, 40% reductions.
You can't judge how full a flight is by looking at the seat map. For various reasons, seats are often blocked when you go to choose, but are actually not booked (usually, they're being held for those with frequent flyer status, paying higher fares, etc). Yes, if a flight is getting full, the fare go up. And when all seats are sold, that's it - you have to pick another flight. This actually happened to me when I was going from New York to Honolulu; at the time, there was only one nonstop a day between them, and I wasn't ready to book early. I saw the ticket go from reasonable, to high, to non-existent (I had to make a connection in LAX for that leg).
Thanks for your responses! It's helpful to understand the current situation - I didn't realize that airlines had reduced capacity 30-40% or how difficult it is to add additional flights. We will keep that in mind when booking future flights!
Sharon, we usually book two to three months prior to our flight. (but start looking way before that!) For our trip to London /Ireland this May/June we booked our flights mid Feb. I would not book a flight until I saw that it had seats that I liked. If it did not, I kept looking. For our flight over the pond I really enjoy Economy Plus/Comfort, etc. seats,...I am over 6'2". So I kept searching for these, on airlines that had them available. I have never had any problem getting seat info from the airline site,(you were checking the airline site, weren't you?) so I don't see this as a problem. (except on short hops where you can't get your seats sntil the day before, and some flaky airlines like KLM) I got good flights for around $900, added some EC seats and ended up around $1100 apiece. (Yes, it is a far cry from the $500 flights that were available a few yeaars ago, but worth every penny.)