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Fares rising: 5 tips on what to do

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  February 25, 2011 10:07 AM

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This morning my pal Katie Johnston Chase reported that airlines have raised domestic ticket prices five times this year in response to climbing fuel costs, which have recently spiked due to Mideast unrest.

And they may go higher.

Recently, the spread of pro-Democracy protests has sparked fears of supply shortages, triggering a jump in the price of oil. But the fact is fuel prices were on the rise even before the upheavals in Egypt and elsewhere -- in fact, they have surged more that 50 percent over the past year. And that's because demand has risen as global economies, particularly in Asia, have begun climbing out of the Great Recession.

As I said, even before recent events, airfares were on the rise, climbing more than 10 percent nationwide in the third quarter of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009 -- partly due to fuel prices but also because of airline consolidation and cuts in flight schedules (i.e. cutting supply to increase demand). And analysts expect prices to rise as much as another 15 percent this year to keep up with fuel costs.

OK, but the question now is what to do. The airlines will continue to have sales as part of their strategy to ensure every seat on every plane is filled. But as we've seen so far this year, the discounts tend to be targeted: relatively short term and with restrictions on days and dates. Here are some tips:

*The best day to fly is Wednesday, with Tuesday and Saturday running a close second. That's because the much-coveted business travelers tend to book travel for days at both ends of the workweek.

*The best day to buy airline tickets tends to be on Tuesdays because carriers often spring sales from Monday evening through Tuesday. And conversely the worst time to shop for fares is on the weekend.

*Don't buy too far in advance. Carriers work to carefully control seats and prices. And they start releasing cheaper seats about 3-4 months before departure for domestic flights and a little farther out for international trips. That way they can test the water a little as well as ensure that they have a comfortable base level of seats sold.

*When you see a good price jump on it. Sale prices tend to be short in duration -- sometimes even as little as a matter of hours. Familiarize yourself with pricing in the period you plan to travel and when something looks good go ahead and buy. Waiting will likely not benefit you.

*Finally, don't assume "discount'' carriers always offer the best prices. The bigger, legacy airlines have deep pockets and want to be competitive on their key routes.

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