Summer fares: Book now or wait?

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Screenshot of Orbitz fares

Book your summer fares now, if at all possible. Experts predict that airfares will keep rising as Mideast turmoil and higher demand for heating oil have driven up fuel prices. The price of jet fuel is already about 50 percent higher now than last summer, says The New York Times. Airlines have responded by hiking prices and fuel surcharges.

Robert Herbst, of AirlineFinancials.com, recently told The Boston Globe that airlines need to raise revenues 10 percent this year—by either charging customers more or by cutting their costs

further—assuming that the price of oil stays about where it is now on average.

To raise money, airlines have hiked airfares five times this year on two-thirds of their routes, Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com. It could be a record year for price hikes, he says at his blog.

Domestic fares are 8 percent higher on average this spring than last spring, reportsTravelocity. Overseas trips are costing about 10 percent more.

Carriers are also cutting costs. Delta, for example, aims to cut costs by speeding up the replacement of older planes that aren't fuel efficient, says the WSJ.

Yes, you can still save on fares. But follow Budget Travel's advice for the best booking strategies.

Hot tip: Swap the last-minute, price-shopping that may have worked at the height of the recession for a book-sooner-rather-than-later strategy. Read our post: "The threat of rising fares"—especially the helpful tips readers posted in the comments. One reader pointed out, for instance, that airfare may actually cheaper when you book a package with one of the big tour operators, which booked their block of seats on planes last fall when prices were cheaper and they locked in a better rate.

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