Fliers who SURF can SAVE

Looking to fly in July?

Airline fare wars should work in your favor, with peak-season fares running well below the levels of last summer. A strong dollar will help if you're headed out of the country: The British pound, for example, recently hit a 15-year low. In dollar terms, Europe is cheaper by about 25 percent, compared with two years ago, when the Continent adopted the euro. This summer, Europe's a hot destination: Some 13 million Americans are expected to cross the pond.

But wait before calling your travel agent. The biggest trend to tap into may be the Web's rising role as a tool for landing low fares. It remains to be seen how the new collaborative, airline-sponsored website, Orbitz.com, will affect pricing. But the airline industry and the Internet appear to be a love match, with carriers using the Web to slash their marketing and distribution costs. (It costs Southwest, for example, $1 to book a flight online, compared with about $5 to book via telephone reservation centers and $10 via a travel agency.)

Indeed, Web customers are catching on fast: Airline tickets accounted for the largest slice, $9.6 billion, of "e-tailing's" $38 billion in revenue generated last year, according to Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.

The average online leisure-travel airfare last year was $438, while the average offline leisure travel airfare was $650 - one reason 21 million people paid for travel-related services online.

The map at the top of this page compares some of the best available "rack" fares (as declared by the airlines themselves) for selected routes with fares offered by Web-based ticket brokers. Such fares change frequently. Those cited were the lowest found by the Monitor in a reasonably deep Web search. Fares cited are for dates in July. All are subject to seat availability.

Make thorough Web searches. Check out deals at more than one online travel agent.

Book as early as possible.

Be flexible on travel dates, if possible, to increase chance of better fares.

Confirm flight info, such as itinerary, with the airline itself.

Keep a record of your order number when you buy tickets online.

Consider paper, versus electronic, tickets. These are easier to reroute than e-tickets.

Compare fees charged for rebooking or canceling flights.

Subscribe to e-mail summaries listing airline deals.

Look out for online deals that can earn you bonus frequent-flyer miles.

Top 5 online travel firms in 2000

(revenue in billions)

Travelocity.com $2.5

Expedia 1.8

Southwest Airlines 1.6

Delta Airlines 1.5

Priceline.com 1.2

Source: PhoCusWright Inc.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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