With a busy travel season expected this summer, it may be difficult to find a last-minute deal.
According to a recent report from the Transportation Department, fares on domestic flights averaged $380 in the 2006 fourth quarter, up more than 3% from $367 the previous year. And with airlines filling nearly 80% of their seats, the high prices are likely to persist.
"As far as airfares, you see fewer and fewer deals because airlines have reduced capacity," said Michael Stitt, executive producer at Travelzoo Inc., which tracks and publishes travel deals. "So the airlines have the ability to increase prices."
At the same time, 69% of U.S. adults said this summer they planned to fly as much as or more than they did last summer, up from 57% in 2006, according to Expedia.com, a travel search engine.
Still, although you may have trouble finding bargain-basement prices, travel professionals say it is possible to pare costs, but you need to think strategically.
Many myths exist about which day of the week airlines typically cut fares. But when it comes to last-minute weekend getaways, Stitt said, most airlines post specials, or e-fares, on Tuesdays.
"Sometimes [the deals] are great, sometimes they're good, and sometimes they're just OK," Stitt said. Regardless, be prepared to travel in the morning: Most fares require that you fly on Saturday and return early the following week.
Flights that depart on a Tuesday or Wednesday also can help you snag a fare as much as 40% lower than leaving on a Friday.
If you can stay as loose about your destination as you are about the days you travel, you will have an even better chance of saving money.
Travelzoo, for example, announces its 20 best travel deals of the week every Wednesday morning. Among bargains recently listed: A seven-day Alaskan cruise for $849, which normally costs $1,200 to $1,500, and 50% off rooms at a new Scottsdale, Ariz., resort.
Also, consider heading to areas where summer is the off-season for travel, such as Phoenix and Mexico.
Don't assume you are too late to save a few dollars on trips to popular destinations such as Europe. Although you won't find the low fares typical of early spring and fall, the Continent's off-season, airlines may run periodic sales to help fill any empty seats.
Airlines, for example, sometimes release additional discounted student fares starting in mid-May, said Kristen Celko, vice president of marketing and e-commerce for STA Travel North America, a student travel organization. On average, student fares are 10% to 20% cheaper. "Procrastination may pay off," Celko said.
Even if it is expensive to cross the pond, you may be able to find deals on the Continent. The weak dollar is leading many U.S. travelers to avoid Europe this summer. As a result, European hotels are starting to cut rates.
For example, the Leonard hotel in London is offering rooms for about $158 a night as long as you book by May 30, about 55% off what the hotel normally charges.
When you do spot a deal, don't delay. With capacity tight, any specials that do surface probably will be for a limited number of seats or hotel rooms.
"Be ready to book fast," said Stitt of Travelzoo, "because the best deals go fast in the summer."