Airfares: Book your holiday travel now rather than wait for sales

Courtesy rooneycat/myBudgetTravel

There will be fewer flights this fall than in any season since late 2001, reports the AP. The airlines have been trimming flights, and they haven't finished. American, United, and Delta plan to cancel even more service.

What does this mean for you?

It means that, despite the recession, planes will usually be full. And if the economy does strengthen a bit, it means that airfares aren't going to get any cheaper by the holidays.

As the WSJ's travel editor Scott McCartney puts it, "Buying early means you typically pay a high price (higher than you would during non-holiday periods) and buying closer to the holidays usually means you pay even higher prices."

You can book in confidence if you rely on money-back, price tracking websites to "watch your back." As I recently reported in this month's Budget Travel:

Most fliers don't know that major U.S. airlines have policies that qualify you for a refund if the fare goes down after you book. Of course, they don't tell you when your fare changes—and who actually keeps track of these things?—so travelers rarely see the money. Enter Yapta. Two years ago, the site introduced its free airfare-tracking service, which e-mails you the moment your fare dips. For $15, Yapta will file the pesky money-back paperwork with your airline. Last summer, Orbitz got in on the business, with its Price Assurance program. If another Orbitz customer books the exact same flight in the same fare class for less than what you paid, you automatically get a check for the difference (up to $250 per ticket). No paperwork required.

So don't hesitate to book your tickets now. If the price drops later, you can get some money back in most cases.

Another tip: Do your shopping for tickets during the middle of the week, when travel websites often charge lower prices for the same flights than they do on weekends, when they know more people are visiting their websites.

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