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Should you buy that plane ticket? 3 questions can help you stop agonizing

If you sometimes feel as though the world is conspiring against you and your flight plans, wonder no more. It is — but for different reasons, although all fall under the banner of the “state of the world.” Here are three questions you must ask yourself before you decide whether your trip is a no or a go in 2020.

What’s my pain point?

Identify it and choose accordingly.

Let’s say I want to fly to Melbourne, Fla., which is a smaller airport that’s much more convenient than Orlando for many resort areas on the eastern coast. I would leave Feb. 3, a Monday, and return Feb. 10, also a Monday.

I held my breath and found a fare of $202.

I would have purchased it but for two things: It had flight times of almost 15 hours there and 21 hours back, and it was a basic economy ticket.

Only you can decide whether your money is worth the extra time, but a 15-hour trip that lands you in Melbourne, Fla., doesn’t promise the same rewards as a lengthy trip that lands you in Melbourne, Australia.

The next best fare I found that would not consume my trip with layovers was $94 more, but it was still basic economy.

Basic economy has been the response by legacy airlines (such as United, Delta and American) to ultra-low-cost carriers, including Frontier, Allegiant and Spirit.

The legacy carriers don’t play as much hardball as the ultra-lows (they don’t charge you to print a boarding pass, for instance), but even with a legacy basic fare, you don’t get as many opportunities to ensure your well-being. You don’t get to choose your seats in advance, and you’ll lose your fare if you can’t make the trip.

On the other hand, said Seth Kaplan, a longtime transportation analyst, you get the same seatback entertainment, you get a carry-on bag for free (on American and Delta, not on United) and maybe even a snack. That’s why he and his family took a basic economy flight from the Washington, D.C., area to Montana, saving them about $200. The fact that you can’t choose your seat in advance? “As a family, we almost always get seated together,” he said.

How is my risk tolerance?

Do I dare buy a ticket this far out? Should I buy travel insurance?

As the year began, fuel prices were relatively stable and had been for some time. Then trouble erupted in the Middle East and fuel prices shot up overnight. Then they settled back down.

It’s important to keep a watch on those prices. As Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations for fare website CheapOair, has told me more than once, about 25% of the cost of a ticket is the cost of jet fuel.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, makes it easy for you to keep track. Check out its Jet Fuel Price Monitor at bit.ly/jetfuelmonitor.

If you begin to see a steady, consistent increase, it’s best to buy now because it takes four to six months for those prices to cycle into the cost of a ticket, Kaplan and Spagnola said.

Can I live with myself if I go (or don’t)?

Here’s great news for the airlines, courtesy of Spagnola: Nearly 4.75 billion passenger trips are expected worldwide this year. That would be a record, and an increase of 137% since 2004.

That’s not necessarily great news for the environment. Although the airline industry isn’t the leading offender, it’s the growth in emissions from air travel that are at issue, William Wilkes wrote in a March Bloomberg article.

“All of these forecasts are terrifying climate scientists and activists who say increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are leading to rising temperatures, more extreme weather and higher death tolls from natural disasters caused at least in part by human activity,” Wilkes wrote. He then quoted Paul Fennel, a professor of clean energy at Imperial College in London, as saying, “We are all going to have to reduce the extent to which we fly.”

Enter flight shaming, which means you are wringing your hands over your carbon footprint and deciding perhaps you won’t take that trip.

If you fly, several airlines let you buy carbon offsets, including Delta, United and JetBlue.

Should you fly? Not fly? Kaplan notes that even if you’re not on that flight, it will take off anyway — at least for now.

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