Airfares Are Still Rising: How You Can Land a Bargain Ticket This Summer

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Summer travel season is approaching, but the latest air fare data released by the Department of Transportation are likely to send a chill down the spines of people who are planning long-distance vacations. The average price of a domestic round-trip fare rose 8.4% to $337 in 2010. Prices spiked 5% in the fourth-quarter holiday season alone compared to 2009.

The economy may be continuing to pack on muscle, and more travelers are returning to the skies, but don't expect a break on plane tickets anytime soon. "People will find themselves having to budget more for airfare," Travelzoo (TZOO) senior editor Gabe Saglie told DailyFinance. "Prices are not coming down."

But Saglie has good news for the flexible and well-connected. Fares that have been discounted by 20% to 40% are available through social media and flash alerts, though many are for flights departing within three or four days of purchase. Letting the deal determine their destination on short notice is not for everybody, he admits, but it can be an adventure with savings as a bonus. "Airlines still will have empty seats and will still have the need to discount prices," he said.

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The vacation-haven maven recommends deal hunters sign up for flash alerts from several airlines -- and, of course, from bargain-publishing sites such as Travelzoo. Just don't overdo it, or you'll be bombarded with emails, Tweets and texts, Saglie warned.

Also keep in mind this summer that your steal of a deal on paradise might be someone else's inferno. How about Phoenix or South Beach in July? "These are locations that plausibly could generate aggressive airfare bargains," he said.

And don't forget to observe a few other commandments of flying frugal: Surf the Web late on Tuesday afternoons for what are often the week's lowest prices -- it's not an urban myth. If you're short on time, go directly to deal-aggregators such as Kayak. You might also consult travel sites' best-of compilations for flights and complete vacation packages.

Play your cards right, and you could be flying for less than you imagined this summer, no matter what the Department of Transportation says.

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