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Getting Around Rising Airfares

Many major airlines are hiking their round-trip fares by $10 this week, and it looks as if we'll see more price increases in months to come.

There are ways, however, to skirt sky-high fares, and on "The Early Show" Tuesday, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg offered tips on shopping for the best fares, to help make sure you don't get taken for a ride. He also spotlighted several vacation destinations he considers well worth considering now:

Airlines appear confident that the 1.5 percent increase in air travel in 2010 will continue. In fact, a report from American Express predicts that rates fares will increase 2-to-6 percent for domestic/short haul flights, and 3-to-7 percent for international/long haul flights. The report also predicts hotel prices rising as much as 6 percent.

American Airlines has confirmed that it has raised domestic airfares this week up to $10 for a round-trip flight.

The price hike, discovered by travel website FareCompare.com, charges an additional $5 for one-way flights over 500 miles and $3 for one-way flights under 500 miles.

Many of American's competitors have matched the price increase. Continental, Delta, United, US Airways, Virgin America, Alaska, Frontier and Southwest have all hiked their fares.

Farecompare says the across-the-board fare increase is an indicator of more price increases to come. Farecompare hypothesizes that carriers are likely to raise prices again during the course of the year.

The other whammy is that the airlines aren't really increasing capacity domestically, and that's one major reason planes are jam-packed and the airlines can raise fares without fear someone will undercut them.

In the recent past, fare increases didn't hold if one of the weaker rivals didn't go along with the new higher fares. But no one is really weak these days, so the law of supply and demand kicks in, and that's why you're seeing almost across-the-board increases.

How can you beat the system and get around these increases?

First, it's OK to do your basic research online, but depending on the Internet is a bad idea. The notion that all the available inventory is on the Web is a myth -- it's not. Talk to a human being (this applies to airlines and hotels) and you might be surprised what you can get.

An example: On the internet, American Airlines Flight 34 from Los Angeles to New York was $739, and that was the cheapest flight posted. On the phone talking to a human being at American, I got a flight an hour earlier for $209. They were matching a Virgin America fare, but it was not on the Internet.

One very important thing to know that is recent news: Major airlines are pulling their prices off of larger travel websites. For instance, there will not be any American Airlines pricing on Orbitz.com. Major carriers want you to use their sites, not a large website with all sorts of airlines involved. Use those sites if you must, but check the information with the airline, or other airlines that might not be listed on travel sites, to see if you can get a better price.

And if you still want to use the Web, keep this in mind: Any airline or hotel website that tells you that you can't find a lower fare than what's posted on its own website is not telling the truth.

For example: I looked at the US Air website for a shuttle flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Washington Reagan. The lowest one way fare for the 8 a.m. flight was $296. Then I looked more closely, for any US Air shuttle flight that day. I then looked at the Orbitz website, and found the 8 a.m. flight, same airline, for $51 each way.

If you do book online, sites I recommend for comparison shopping: Kayak.com, which is a great aggregator website. And another is Momondo.com (which most people don't know), which is based in Denmark and has great overseas deals.

PETER'S 2011 CHOICE DESTINATIONS

These offer great getaways at good prices:

Gulf shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

This popular family destination wasn't pummeled by the oil spill last summer, but it was hurt by the perception of the oil spill, which hit just as the tourism industry was gearing up for its high season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Spend your travel dollars where they count, and you can be sure that the locals will roll out the welcome mat to give you a great experience.

The economy was hit hard: Gross lodging revenue for Pleasure Island this summer (May - August 2010) was down a whopping 41.1 percent compared to the same period last year; Baldwin County dropped 33.2 percent; Santa Rosa 24.8 percent, and Okaloosa was down 24.1 percent.

The beaches are now clean and, while summer is the high season, winter is still an excellent time to visit, since the weather is mild all year round.

The Alabama Gulf Coast is partying this spring with a family-friendly Mardi Gras, mixing beach getaways, winter deals, and the festivities of masquerades and beads. Taking place March 4-8, there will be parades all through the streets of Orange Beach, followed by a Fat Tuesday celebration and boat parade at the Homeport Marina.

No matter what time of year, this area offers exceptional value in vacation rentals. It's great for traveling families and groups, gives you access to a kitchen and other amenities, and allows you to eat and play at your own pace. Check out Click here for more on this), In January and February, you can secure a one-bedroom, beach-view condo from $900 a month with an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tub and fitness center on the premises (Click here for more on this).

Ocean Cruises

(All prices sourced from CruiseBrothers.com)

Again, traveling in the shoulder season pays off. Considering an Alaskan cruise? They only operate seasonally, so travel in the very beginning or end of the season for the lowest prices. Celebrity Cruises' seven-night Alaska cruise is cheapest departing May 20 (from $765) and August 26 ($765). Prices peak in July, at $1,035 per person.

Last-minute deals still abound on cruise lines. You can sail this Jan. 15 on Royal Caribbean from just $249 per person on a five-night western Caribbean cruise. That's less than $50 a night! NCL has a deal on a three-night cruise to the Bahamas from just $169 per person, or about $56 a night. Celebrity has a five-night western Caribbean cruise to Roatan and Cozumel departing Jan. 17 from only $209 per person, or $41 a night.

If you've never cruised before and want to dip your toe in the water, consider a "cruise to nowhere." These are one- and two-night cruises in which you can get a feel for a ship for not very much money. NCL is sailing out of New York on Jan. 21 from only $79 for one night.

The growth of secondary ports has been huge in the past few years. These "drive-to" ports make cruising even more accessible to Americans who don't want to spend a lot on airfare. Look at departures from New Orleans, Boston, Baltimore, Galveston, Mobile, Charleston, Norfolk, and Philadelphia, to name a few.

Remember: Although the cruises will discount tremendously on the cabin, it's important to budget for the entire trip. The cruise lines count on onboard revenue, which includes drinks, specialty dining, shore excursions, etc. Pay attention to pricing, and you can have a great experience for a reasonable amount.

South Africa

Since the World Cup, Cape Town has been on our radar. The city has seen a record increases in U.S. tourist arrivals of 16.2 percent, 98.9 percent, 9.7 percent and 35.2 percent for the four months of May, June, July and August, respectively. But the good news is the soccer fans have left, and there are a lot of airline seats and hotel rooms to fill.

As with anywhere, deals can be found when you travel in the low season. High season is between October and April, and low is May through September, so aim for those early fall and late spring weeks.

At the luxury level, rooms can be pricey: The ultra-luxe Taj Cape Town normally starts from about $736 a night in the high season. However, if you book well in advance, you can drop that rate down to about $540. Then, as we head into late fall/early winter in South Africa, rates drop even further: A room in mid-May drops to about $360 a night. (Click here for more on this)

The good news is there are a number of options in Cape Town for all budgets: The Holiday Inn Express is centrally located and has rooms from about $90 a night in the high season; the Cape Diamond Hotel, also in the city center, has very reasonable rates from only $78 a night in the low season, and from $93 a night in the high.