In 2012, airfares should continue to soar

Travel industry experts say that even before turmoil

Travel industry experts say that even before turmoil in the Middle East drove oil prices higher, airfares were headed skyward. (Jan. 20, 2011) (Credit: AP )

Airlines were walloped by rising oil prices in 2011 and fliers were forced to fork out more for airfares. Experts say 2012 could hold much of the same.

"We're going to see higher airfares," says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, an online site for travelers.

But how much higher is a matter of debate.

"Fares are probably going to inch up," said George Hobica, founder of travel website airfarewatchdog.com. He said airlines are cutting the number of seats they fly, and mergers may eliminate competition.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel is forecasting a 3.5 to 4.1 percent jump in North American airfares. Other experts say fares could climb higher, partly because of more regulation. Here's a look at what else we can expect from air travel in 2012:

DEALS Even if there's a general increase in prices, good deals still will be available, especially during off-peak hours or midweek periods, Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare, said. As it becomes harder to shave costs off air travel, people will change their planning process, Banas predicted. "Cheap deals and what's available will dictate where they travel."

Internet "flash" sales or limited-run discounts and "surprise" travel deals will be increasingly popular, Banas added.

CHARGE FOR EXTRAS Comfort, perks and new ways to upgrade will be much discussed in 2012, according to Cheapflights.com. Still, mini-upgrades like these may appeal to economy fliers seeking premium-class indulgences at minimal costs.

FEES Carriers have increasingly used fees to raise revenue. Beginning Jan. 24, Spirit will charge customers $5 to have their boarding pass printed by an airport agent (a $2 fee for kiosk-printed boarding passes starts June 30). A fee to speak to a real person at airport check-in could be another reality facing travelers soon, Hobica added.

REGULATION New U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that offer travelers more protections become effective Jan. 24. Among them are rules that will ban post-purchase price increases and require airlines to give prompt notification of delays of more than 30 minutes. Another rule that will require airlines to include all taxes and fees in the advertised fares will take effect Jan. 26.

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