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Frequent Flyers and Vacation Travelers Face Higher Ticket Prices

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Guest Ekul

The escalating cost of crude oil is already taking a toll on motorists, who face higher prices for fuel purchases. Now it is also impacting airline passengers as they grapple with higher ticket costs at airline counters, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.


As airlines pass on the record market prices for jet fuel to their passengers, the travel organization is advising airline passengers to book their flights in advance to avoid higher airfares in the future.


United Airlines recently announced it is adding a jet fuel surcharge up to $50 on some round-trip tickets, according to travel agents with AAA Mid-Atlantic's Retail Travel Services. United is a carrier at the three regional airports in the Greater Washington area: the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Dulles International Airport and the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).


Continental Airlines, which also serves the three regional airports, quickly matched the surcharge, AAA Mid-Atlantic travel agents explain. Other airlines are weighing the possibility of also adding fuel surcharges to advertised ticket prices.


“Travelers can expect sticker shock at airline ticket counters this year as they find themselves paying much higher prices for airfares,” said Kathy Burk, a retail travel agent with AAA Mid-Atlantic's Retail Travel Services.


“The unprecedented increase in surcharges does not bode well for frequent fliers booking business trips or for leisure travelers planning flights to vacation spots this spring and summer. The fuel surcharges vary according to the length and the date of the flight. The cost of flying is increasing rapidly, so plan ahead and book your flights, and lock in the price now.”


The airline industry is grappling with surging increases in the spot price of jet fuel, and, as a result, is adding hefty fuel surcharges on flights. The cost of jet fuel has increased 30 percent in the last month, airline industry sources say.


With crude oil prices holding above the $100 a barrel mark, and with aviation fuel prices hovering at record levels, some airlines are considering mothballing or grounding older fuel-guzzling jets to save money by cutting maintenance costs.


“That's means there will be fewer flight options available in the future, and greater competition for seats on airlines, as the airlines increase ticket prices and trim the sheer number of flights” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.


“As rising crude oil prices whipsaw through the slowing economy, fewer consumers will book flights. Air travelers will not see any relief in their wallets this year. The same is true for all travelers.”


Here are some tips for saving money on flights:


Booking flights six months in advance. You can also save by booking 21 to 14 days in advance.

Making reservations on flights on budget airlines.

Buying a round-trip ticket, even if you are flying one way.

Flying the red-eye or by booking a flight early in the morning or late evening, when rates are lower.

Using a travel agent or a website to search for the cheapest flights or un-booked lower fare reservations.

Flying to your destination on Monday through Thursday, when fares are generally cheaper than weekend airfare rates (By doing so, you are avoiding weekend surcharges).

Staying over until Sunday, when fares are cheaper than on Saturday.

Traveling off-season, when airfares fall.

Flying on stand-by.

Flying on the holiday, instead of around holidays, when fares are cheaper and seats are plentiful.

Redeeming frequent flier miles.


The travel industry had forecast a 5.2 increase in 2008 in travel spending by domestic and international travelers.


The addition of the jet fuel surcharge in a weakening economy may put a dent in the wallets of consumers and may dim the overall performance of the travel industry, which was projected to see $778.2 billion in spending this year, Burk commented.


Even before the industry announced the fuel surcharges, airfares had already increased 7.6 percent over the previous 12 month period, the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) reported in February. What is more, fares were up 1.2 percent over the previous month, the TIA noted.


In addition to facing fuel price surcharges, airline passengers will likely see other price increases in fees this year, warn travel agents with AAA Mid-Atlantic's Retail Travel Services.


Last month, in a cost saving measure, US Airways announced a $25 surcharge for a second checked bag. The airline is the largest carrier at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the nation's sixth-largest airline. The new policy goes into effect in May and other airlines might follow suit, Burk advises.


Mounting increases in jet fuel costs couldn't come at a worst time for the airline industry, which is still reeling from the impact of the events that unfolded on 9/11, driving some carriers into bankruptcy, industry and travel analysts say.


Passenger activity at the area’s airports serves as a vital cog in the region's travel and tourism industry. The increased cost of ticket prices will be felt across the region, as the major airlines expect lower profits this ..


For example, with 44 gates, the Reagan National Airport near the shoreline of the Potomac River served a record 18.6 million passengers during 2007, while Dulles, which boasts 143 airline gates, served 24.7 million domestic and international travelers in 2007. Last year, 22 million passengers - an average of 57,655 persons each day - took flights at BWI.

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