Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bargainhunters Find Flight Options Widening

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bargainhunters Find Flight Options Widening

Article excerpt

Over the past month, a steady stream of prospective travelers have called the Modern Travel Agency expecting bargain airline tickets.

"We have people calling about $60 round-trip tickets to the West Coast," says Mary Ann, a travel agent with the Johnstown, Pa., company.

Customer expectations are a bit high, in some cases. But most observers say good deals are in greater abundance than at any time in recent memory - ranging from half-price tickets to tantalizing frequent-flyer perks.

Overall, domestic airfares in September were down 19 percent compared with last year, according to the Air Transport Association.

The largess is not likely to diminish anytime soon. US airlines, experts suggest, will continue to offer fare sales every week for the next several months in an effort to boost revenues. Consumers can already buy significantly discounted tickets for travel up to mid-April. In many cases, passengers are flying across the US for 3 cents a mile, with a cost to airlines of 13 cents a mile.

National carriers that fly out of major airports - such as American, Delta, and United - have been strategically dropping fares across the country. Occasionally, one will lower its fare into a competitor's hub to win a quick flurry of bookings. Competitors respond by dropping their rates out of the carrier's hub, prompting each to raise prices back to previous levels.

But the key to finding the best deals, travel experts say, is to fly out of regional airports that play host to low-fare carriers such as AirTran, America West, American Trans Air, and Southwest.

"Even if you don't buy a ticket with one of them, other airlines in the same airport are forced to lower their prices to compete [there]," says Tom Parsons, CEO of travel website Bestfares.com.

Most coach-class flights from Baltimore to San Diego, for example, now cost $180. That's $170 less than most San Diego trips starting in Washington, D.C.

But consumers who fly discount airlines should not expect premium service. Few serve food, board early, or offer first-class upgrades.

Travelers should also be aware that a number of low-fare carriers stand on precarious financial footing. …

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