Airlines: AA lets you pay as you go

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American Airlines has introduced an option to pay through your checking or savings account when buying tickets online.

This service is terrific for budget travelers because first, it's free, and second, it encourages you to stop putting things on your credit cards. It's cliché but true: The best way to stay out of excessive debt is to pay now rather than pay later whenever you can, as I've learned myself the hard way.

The downside to this new service is that you must book your tickets through AA.com. Be sure to use another search engine to compare fares before you book through AA.com. While AA.com promises to offer you its lowest fares via its own website, another airline may be serving the same route at a lower fare--and you might miss it if you search only on AA.com.

AA's payment system looks like a snap to use: You type in your bank routing and account numbers printed on the bottom of your paper check or your savings account withdrawal slip. You also enter your address and driver's license or state-issued ID number. (When purchasing a ticket, just look for the option to pay by electronic check.)

Kudos to American for launching this service.

Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and US Airways accept payments by PayPal, which is a similar service that allows for electronic payments to be deducted via your checking account. But you may be hit with charges, depending on how you do these transactions. Check the fine print before you pay.

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