Airline fares: Six ways to beat the rise in ticket prices

Airline fares increased by 5 percent in the first part of 2010. But savvy consumers can still find ways to get discount airline fares.

By , Correspondent

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    Airline fares jumped by 5 percent in the first three months of this year. One way passengers might save is by using discount airlines, like Southwest and JetBlue. In this June photo, passengers traveling on Southwest Airlines watch as one plane waits to tak eoff and another lands at Midway Airport in Chicago.
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The bargain-basement airline fares consumers saw during the height of the recession are no more.

Airfare prices rose nearly 5 percent in the first three months of 2010 over the previous year, according to newly released government data, with the average airline ticket costing $328.

That’s still relatively low – 25 percent cheaper than 1999’s average ticket price (after factoring in inflation). But it doesn’t take into account other new costs for traveling, like additional charges for baggage (which can be hefty; some airlines charge up to $50 for a piece of luggage).

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Now that ticket prices are on the upswing, here are some ways you can save on air travel:

  1. Be flexible. Often you can find cheaper tickets if you’re flexible about when you can fly and which airport you use. Search several days or weeks to find the best deal, and don’t rule out red-eye and mid-week flights – they’re often cheapest.
  2. Get bumped. When flights are overbooked, airlines ask for volunteers who are willing to wait (sometimes overnight) for the next flight. Passengers who volunteer receive travel vouchers or free flights. To make sure you get on the volunteer list, approach the counter when you first arrive at the gate and get your name at the top.
  3. Check specialty travel agencies. There are plenty of travel agencies catering to students (like statravel.com, ciee.org and EFCollegeBreak.com) that offer special deals. If you’re flying to a foreign locale, search for an ethnic travel agency in your area (for instance, a Koreatown travel agency in a nearby city if you’re planning a trip to Seoul). Foreign airlines often sell discount tickets in bulk to these agencies.
  4. Sign up for airline deal alerts. Airlines often offer limited-time offers, though they aren’t always advertised widely. Signing up for email alerts from discount airfare websites will make you privy to the deals. If you’re worried about spam filling your in-box, create a special email account only for deal updates, which you can check periodically.
  5. Join travel rewards programs. Every major credit card offers some kind of travel rewards program. If you qualify for a card, sign up, and use it to make big-ticket purchases so you can wrack up airline miles more quickly.
  6. Travel light and pack a lunch. As mentioned above, airlines are increasingly looking to baggage fees and charging for mid-air snacks to boost profits. So, packing as lightly as possible to avoid fees and bringing your own food can add up to big savings.
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