Image: Tailgate party
Evan Vucci  /  AP
Virginia Tech fans tailgate in the FedEx Field parking lot Sept. 6 before an NCAA college football game against Boise State in Landover, Md. Flying back to see a game at your alma mater? Flight choices to smaller college towns may be more difficult, but fall fare sales are abundant.
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updated 9/10/2010 1:01:56 PM ET 2010-09-10T17:01:56

Smell the tailgate party — it's college football season. But if you're flying in for a game, you might be headed for a headache. Cutbacks at major airlines have made flight choices more difficult this fall, especially to smaller college towns. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip:

The pre-game
Here's the rundown if you haven't flown in a while: Planes are fuller and there are fewer flights because of schedule cutbacks across the industry. Fares have gone up, particularly to smaller towns that are often dominated by a single major airline. Airlines have also become more dependent upon fees and surcharges, which means there are plenty more to look out for.

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But there's good news, too. Unless you're flying to a game around Thanksgiving, peak day travel surcharges are virtually nonexistent this year. Also, fall fare sales are abundant but you have to know where to look. Expedia and Orbitz will give you a range of options to compare, but don't rule out sites like Travelzoo, which point out the best sales. Fans take note: deals include one from American Airlines, with flights starting at $59 each way on more than 100 routes, and a nationwide fare sales from AirTran with fares starting at $54.

On the offense
It's important to sign up for fare alerts on sites like Travelzoo or Kayak to keep on top of the latest deals if you want to make it to the big game. Airlines have shifted toward last-minute sales aimed at drumming up attention on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and getting passengers to book fast. The sales, often only two or three days long, don't leave you much time to decide whether the fare is a good one. That's where research comes in handy. If you know a basic range of fare prices you can feel more confident to book a low price or let a higher one go.

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Another important tip to remember for college football fans? Be sure to include several different airports in your search. If you're a fan of the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, for instance, include flights to Atlanta as well as Birmingham. A few hours in a rental car might be worth a drop in price — especially if you were planning to rent a car once you reached campus in Tuscaloosa. Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes, ranked second in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, will have less trouble finding cheap flights. Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest cities home to a top-ranked college football team, along with Fort Worth, home to No. 5 Texas Christian University.

University of Florida die-hards can look forward to more choices this year. American Airlines is adding service to Gainesville, Fla. on Oct. 1.

Time out
Experts suggest travelers should book about eight weeks in advance. Still, it's not the end of the world if you don't have that much time. Although ticket prices are higher than last year, there are more fare sales now than during the summer because airlines are anxious to fill seats in one of the weakest periods of the year. The month after Labor Day can be especially bad for the airlines, as summer vacations end and kids go back to school. So if you're looking for a good deal, it's likely still out there. Hotel prices don't sway so quickly, but rooms are also cheaper than last year.

Overtime
There are a number of travel agents who will offer special deals to college football fans. You're really likely to score if your team is headed for a bowl game. Although there are benefits to a face-to-face meeting with a local agent, there are also plenty of options online. Sites like Sportstraveler.net offer package flights, hotel and game tickets to all the major BCS championship games.

Another option fans are sure to remember: ExpressJet, which is based in Houston, has teamed up with Premiere Global Sports to offer 35 different charter flight packages for the college football faithful. The price includes an open bar on the plane and transportation to the game. Some of the packages, which start at $399, also include game tickets and pre-game entertainment.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Great tailgate gear and grub

  1. Closed captioning of: Great tailgate gear and grub

    >>> okay. it's officially football season. i'm going to be out at the giants opener on sunday, and we're kicking it off with great gear and grub, the winning combo for the ultimate tailgate party .

    >> jean benedict is the hope of entertaining and she's here to show us how it's done the right way.

    >> beverages, i see.

    >> we're kicking it off with the beverages, hot products to amp up the tailgate. go ahead and have a margarita there, and i think you'll taste it's totally restaurant quality. they're made with this margaritaville frozen concoction maker machine. cordless. big deal . very popular. you can make up to 60 drirn 0 drinks on one. it shaves the ice as it blends.

    >> it doesn't get all mushy.

    >> if it didn't have 500 calories, i'll drink the whole thing.

    >> how much does it cost?

    >> this is 2$299. if you want a cold one, that's the tub cooler that holds 72 can, bottles and ice and folds up and sets up in seconds. from the cooler to the magnetic ko koozie. where's the saints one? i don't want it. sorry.

    >> houston texas .

    >> put it right on the side of a car. great idea.

    >> that's so funny.

    >> this is from americantailgatr americantailgater.com. you can get a four-pack.

    >> i can do all my christmas shopping right here. this is a ring bottle opener .

    >> that's fantastic.

    >> this is for college kids .

    >> i can't get it off now.

    >> that's hilarious.

    >> when you do your cans and bottles, you want to recycle and duke it in style. these are pop-up trash and recycling bins . let me show you. they compaq kajed flat. great space savor in ter in the car. they have the officials licensed nfl design there. they're $4 for the regular bins or a little more for the logos. this table is multifunctional. they're a beanbag toss or table. you can make it flat or put it together.

    >> play a few games on here?

    >> 169.99 at tailgatingfanatic.com. fab fabulous stable spread. personalized new york giants.

    >> is there a frank gifford in there?

    >> there is. this is my m&m's.com.

    >> you can get them personalized for any team?

    >> yourself or other birthday parties. secret recipe caramel and robust cheese and all natural butter and 39.99 at the popcorn factory. fire up the grill. it's awesome. we wanted to give your viewers a lot. this is their q series portable gas grill . push button ignition. these work tables are great and fold up and it's possibrtable. there's an jausable burn valve like the stove. this is 189 at weber. this is a great price. these are really great. this is the all in one chair. it's a transport system , it's a chair and it's a cooler at americantailgater.com.

    >> and a port-o-potty.

    >> you're watching the football game . 49.95. spectator bench folds up, $25.

    >> and she's great, by the

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