By Robert Silk of Travel Weekly
Tom Parsons, a trailblazer in the business of sniffing out inexpensive airfares, passed away at his home in Dallas on Dec. 3 after a long illness. He was 67.
“He was so far ahead of his time with what he did,” said longtime friend and protege Stewart Chiron, president of CruiseGuy.com. “He taught people what was really going on and how to beat the airlines at their own game.”
Parsons founded Best Fares Magazine in 1982 and expanded his offerings to include Bestfares.com after the internet took hold. For decades, he was a go-to source for print and television journalists looking for expert commentary on airfares, or on the airline industry at large.
Parsons’ entry into travel stemmed from a stint as a traveling executive at Pier 1 in the late 1970s. According to promotional material that Parsons used at Best Fares, during frequent trips for Pier 1 he noticed the wide variance in ticket prices, even within the same flights. That led Parsons to investigate how to obtain the cheaper tickets.
When Pier 1 adopted Parsons’ recommendations, its travel budget dropped from $2.5 million to $800,000 in a single year.
Chiron credited Parsons with developing innovative techniques to get around airline practices like selling cheaper tickets on itineraries that include Saturday night stays (a practice the airlines no longer use).
To beat that practice, Parsons encouraged readers to purchase what he dubbed “back-to-back” tickets — two roundtrip, Saturday-inclusive tickets between the same cities but with different origination points. In so doing, travelers who didn’t want to spend a Saturday night on the road could still spend less than the cost of one ticket while maintaining optimum control of their schedule.
Linda Rutherford, who is now the chief communications officer at Southwest, said she met Parsons in 1991 while she was a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald. Their relationship grew after Rutherford moved to Southwest, the original low-cost airline.
“He certainly understood how our business worked,” she said. “He would pride himself on calling me to say, ‘I’m just guessing that the time is coming for a super low-fare sale for SWA.’ He was usually right.”
Parsons is survived by his children Stephanie, Michael and Bryan Parsons as well as a grandson and three siblings, Chiron said. His burial service will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.