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As the airline industry's loss leaders, red-eyes are often cheaper than their daytime counterparts. Book a window seat to avoid disturbances, and don't forget your eye mask and earplugs.
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updated 11/17/2010 9:32:25 AM ET 2010-11-17T14:32:25

First, the bad news. After more than a year of falling ticket prices, the cost of flying is now rising. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average domestic airfare jumped 4.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

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Now the good news. You can do something about it.

Slideshow: How to save money on airfare

First, understand that the rules around when and where to buy tickets are constantly in flux — airfare offers change up to three times each day during the week. Airlines aren’t just changing the fares but also the number of seats that are available at the lowest fare. There might be one seat today at the lowest price and a dozen tomorrow morning. Or vice versa. You need to search hard, find the fare, and lock it down immediately.

Video: Holiday air travelers should brace for sticker shock (on this page)

In other words, timing is everything when it comes to saving money on airfare. That’s true for when you buy, but also for when you decide to travel. To find the lowest fare, flexibility is key. If you have wiggle room built into your schedule, you can sometimes save hundreds by adjusting your travel dates, often by just one or two days. (And those who are very flexible might try an auction site like Hotwire or Priceline.)

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Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t work very well during the busy holiday season when seats are at a premium. In fact, it’s difficult to find any low prices when the holiday season approaches. Airlines traditionally raise their fares for travel during peak holiday periods and for last-minute travel, and they start planning early. Don’t expect to use your miles to save money, either. During the holiday season, there’s little — if any — chance of getting a seat using a “restricted mile award.” You’ll have to dig deep into your account for one of those “anytime mileage awards.”

Our most important tip? Take charge and shop around. Don’t assume that all online travel agencies have the same fares, or that the airline’s own website has the highest fares. And don’t overlook air/hotel packages; the total package price, including the hotel, can be less than the airfare alone.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Video: Holiday air travelers should brace for sticker shock

  1. Transcript of: Holiday air travelers should brace for sticker shock

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Remember back a couple of years ago when airlines, battered by high oil prices and a recession, were struggling just to survive? Their lifeline was the introduction of a series of fees and the so-called a la carte pricing strategy. Well, it worked for them, but maybe not for their passengers. Here's NBC's Ron Mott.

    RON MOTT reporting: The lazy days of summer were busy and uplifting for the nation's airlines. But at what cost? In August alone, passenger complaints rose 35 percent.

    Mr. JOE NEDLEY: Fares are expensive enough.

    MOTT: Joe Nedley is among those saying the airlines are taking passengers for a ride.

    Unidentified Woman: Fees are getting a little ridiculous.

    MOTT: Frustrated that add-on charges like checked luggage, premium seats and ticket changes aren't always clear.

    Mr. CHARLIE LEOCHA (Consumer Travel Alliance): We all feel like we're being nickeled and dimed every step of the way. From making your reservation to getting a seat to checking your luggage, the airlines are always asking us for more money.

    MOTT: And they're getting it, with planes leaving gates packed to capacity. Airline profits are soaring again after being grounded the past couple of years by high fuel and other operating expenses. US Airways : $240 million in the third quarter; Delta : $363 million; United Continental , which merged

    October 1st: $741 million combined. And analysts predict airlines are poised to have a profitable fourth quarter as well, the industry's first in a decade, with higher demand and fewer seats during the holiday travel season leading to bigger fares and even longer lines. JetBlue 's chief credits those tacked-on fees for driving his company's record third quarter.

    Mr. DAVE BARGER (JetBlue Airways President and CEO): Ancillary fees, that structure is here. I think what you'll see will be a significant focus on transparency. A customer, when he or she books, should know, 'Hey, am I paying for that seat? What about the first bag, second bag?' or whatever the case might be.

    MOTT: However much passengers grumble about upcharges, they're still flying in large numbers.

    Ms. MARNIE WILLIAMS: OK, all right, that's enough.

    MOTT: She knows there are alternatives, but Marnie Williams plans to keep toting her tots by air to visit the grandparents.

    Ms. WILLIAMS: Other than that, there's not much, you know, you can do about it.

    MOTT: Some pains, big gains; the cost of flying today. Ron

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