Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier of domestic passengers,… (Justin Sullivan, Getty…)
The bad news for air travelers is that domestic fares have increased about 4.5% in 2012, bringing the average airline ticket to about $375.
The good news is that the increase has been modest compared with 2011, when fares jumped 8.3%. Even better news, industry analysts predict air fares will rise even less in 2013.
But before you pop the cork on the champagne, know that industry experts warn fares could still soar in the last two months of this year.
In fact, Southwest Airlines, the nation's largest carrier of domestic passengers, raised domestic prices last week $4 to $10 per round trip, depending on the route. It was a hike matched by all the major U.S.-based carriers.
The increase was the 14th price boost in 2012, half of which were matched by all the major airlines and half of which were rescinded after few, if any, airlines went along with the hike.
"At the moment, it's impossible to say if 2012 will see more airfare hikes but don't bet against it — not if history is any guide," said Anne McDermott, editor at airfare news website FareCompare.
The average domestic fare for September was $375.35, according to the Airline Reporting Corp., the Arlington, Va., company that manages payments for tickets between travel agents and airlines.
A forecast released last week by American Express Global Business Travel predicted airfares in North American would rise 1% to 4% in 2013, depending on the airline seat and the length of the flight.
Video: Airline seats are getting tighter
An earlier forecast by business travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel came up with a similar conclusion — a rise of 2.8% for the year.
"While the economies of the United States and Canada are experiencing slow and steady improvement, there is no major growth expected in the foreseeable future, which will help contain travel price increases in 2013 for most categories," the Carlson forecast said .
American Airlines offering meal reservations
Chicken or fish.
Only a few years ago, that was the only choice of reheated meals you were given when you flew in a first-class seat.
But now airlines are tapping celebrity chefs such as Suzanne Goin by Singapore Airlines, Michelle Bernstein by Delta Airlines and Sam Choy by American Airlines to cook up the kind of meals you don't expect at 30,000 feet.
American Airlines announced last week that it was going a step further by letting first- and business-class passengers review and reserve their in-flight meal via the airline's website. You get to choose from among two or three entrees — the same choices you get when you board the plane.
The advantage of the program, according to the airline, is that you are guaranteed the meal you ordered and are not stuck with whatever food is left when the flight attendant gets around to serving your row.
"This means you are assured to get the meal you ordered," spokesman Allan Phillips said.
American, which is not charging an extra fee for the service, says it is the first domestic airline to offer the option.
The meal reservation option is already available for flights between Los Angeles International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, among a few other routes. The service will be expanded Nov. 15 to flights between San Francisco International Airport and JFK and Los Angeles and O'Hare International Airport, among others.
Improvements pay off at Red Roof Inn
Give the people what they want. That was the sentiment behind a $120-million redesign effort launched last year by Red Roof Inn at nearly 121 hotels across the country.
The hotel improvements were made based on comments the Columbus, Ohio, hotel chain received from thousands of guests staying in hotels in Texas, Georgia and Ohio.
And it appears that the upgrades have been a success.
The hotels that got the face lifts have seen a 10.6% increase in sales, compared with a 6% increase among all 350 hotels in the chain, according to Red Roof Inn.
Based on the earlier guest comments, the hotel chain replaced in-room carpeting with hardwood floors, swapped out Formica counter tops with granite and added outlets above the nightstand, among other improvements. Such upgrades have been made at Red Roof Inn hotels in San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.
Red Roof Inn President Andy Alexander said feedback from guests suggests that the granite countertops and the hardwood floors give the room a cleaner smell.
"If it smells cleaner, it probably is cleaner," he said.