It's costing more to fly -- and fuel prices are the primary reason, analysts and airlines alike agree.
In March 2007, jet fuel cost $1.85 a gallon. Now, it's nearly double that, at $3.48. Every dollar-per-gallon increase in the price of jet fuel costs a carrier an extra $60 million a year -- and those costs are being passed on to passengers, who also may face fewer choices as airlines drop unprofitable routes and older, less fuel-efficient planes.
But travelers can save money, as Travel + Leisure magazine Deputy Editor Laura Begley explained on The Early Show Thursday, from New York's LaGuardia International Airport.
Her main advice:
WHEN TO BOOK?: Travelers should book in advance -- book now, don't wait, since prices will go up. Avoid booking on weekends, since companies aren't fully-staffed and deals are only updated once a day, around 5 p.m. The best times for deals are 2pm, 4:30pm and midnight, when they're updated on weekdays.
WHERE TO FIND A GOOD DEAL?: Use aggregator Web sites that list deals from all other companies and third-party sites such as Expedia.com. The best ones are Kayak.com, Momondo.com, and Sidestep.com. Another great site is Farecast.com, which enables travelers to predict when prices will go up or down.
HOW TO PACK? More and more airlines are now restricting luggage to only one check-in bag for domestic travel, or even charging a fee to check any number of bags. There are also higher fees for extra weight -- try to keep it under 50 pounds and, if possible, just bring a carry on.
Details on those suggestions:
When to book:
Go ahead and book now, since prices will be rising.
Farecast.com is a great tool that uses historic pricing data to help you make an educated decision about whether a fare is likely to fluctuate in the coming week. A supplementary service called
FareGuard ($10) covers the difference if they tell you to wait for a price to go down and it rises instead.
To increase your chances of getting a good price on your next flight, keep in mind that carriers must release new airfares to a central clearinghouse (called the Airline Tariff Publishing Company) at certain hours. On weekdays, the best times to look for new fares are just after 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and midnight.
A Travel + Leisure Tip: Tickets that were reserved but never paid for usually appear after midnight, so the selection is especially rich then.
On weekends, fares are updated just once a day, around 5 p.m.
Be flexible: Check fares over a range of dates. Look for a feature that says "flexible dates" or "more options" -- they enable you to customize results by affordability, acceptable airlines, nonstop flights, morning departures only, etc.
Bundle It: If, after a few Internet searches, you still haven't found anything reasonable, consider booking a package from Expedia.com, LastMinute.com, or other companies that bundle together airfare and lodging for one price. Packages sometimes cost about the same or less than what the airlines are charging for flights alone.
Best New Airline Web Sites
Momondo.com: Best for searching far and wide in a hurry. When price is paramount, try this Denmark-based aggregator, which swiftly scours more than 450 sites, including major booking engines, national carriers, and no-frills airlines, to unearth cheap flights to destinations around the world.
Yapta.com: Best for watching for price drops, and scoring refunds. This site keeps tabs on fare fluctuations before and after you book your flight, so you can get any applicable credits, or even cash back from the airline if the price drops. Caveat: Refund policies apply only if you book directly with the carrier.
Also, a few Web sites that have been around for awhile, but are great money-saving sites, are Sidestep.com, Kayak.com, and LastMinuteTravel.com.
How to pack
United Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. will charge $50 round-trip for checking a second piece of luggage, starting May 5. Other airlines may soon follow their lead. Discount carrier Spirit Airlines, which already charged for checked baggage, recently increased fees from $5 to $10 if a ticket is purchased online and $10 to $20 when purchased at the airport.
Try to pack light enough to travel only with a carry-on. If you must check bags, keep each one under 50 pounds, and check with individual airlines to avoid getting hit with an excess weight charge at the airport.