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Airfare Shopping Made Tougher by Demand for Economy Seats

If you're planning airline travel in the months ahead, you'll need to work a little harder and smarter to snag the lowest possible fares.

Figures released today showed a sharp drop in business-class bookings for September and a concurrent rise in economy-class travel amid continued belt-tightening by both corporate bookers and leisure travelers. That heightened demand for discount seats is expected to keep up into the new year.

The increased competition for economy seating means you may have to be more flexible with your travel plans to keep within your budget. Here are fare-shopping tips that have proven valuable if ticket price is a primary concern:

  • Alternative airports: Flights in and out of secondary airports of major markets often cost less, making them a sound option if you find discount fares into the primary airport already sold out. Just be sure to weigh the cost of long-term parking, gas, tolls if you're not being dropped off at, or taking mass transit to, an airport closer to home;
  • Departure days and times: Since business travelers tend to fly at the beginning and end of the work week, fares for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays generally are lower, as are the earliest and latest flights of the day. You may need to awaken and arrive at the airport in predawn hours, or stumble into your hotel or home near or after midnight if you want the lowest-cost seating.
  • A two-step search: If you're not wedded to one carrier's frequent-flier program, and don't mind flying a different airline on your initial departure and return, you may save money searching online for one way fares in each direction rather than for a roundtrip fare on a single carrier;
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  • Checking airline sites: If you use a fare search engine, once you've found the lowest-cost fare that works for your schedule, check the same flights on the airline's Web site to possibly save on third-party booking fees.
These days, you also need to be sure before you buy any airline tickets to factor in the potentially sizable costs that search engines don't include in their listed prices: baggage fees. These can now run up to $100 roundtrip for passengers on domestic flights checking two bags.
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