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Increasing airfares may rise another 25% by summer

Increasing oil prices are hitting travelers in the

Increasing oil prices are hitting travelers in the pocketbook. Credit: iStock

I purchased airline tickets for my summer vacation back in November, pretty confident that the fares would go down and I'd be able to snag a price adjustment before flying. But every time I checked the fares for my flights, they were a bit higher than what I paid. Frustrated, I signed up for a Yapta price alert, figuring I'd let their 'bot do the checking and ping me when the price drops. All I've heard are crickets.

So, what does this all mean? For one thing, although at the time I thought I might have been overpaying, I'm awfully glad I pounced on those tickets when I did; they're up nearly  $70 each way now -- and I bought four. More importantly -- to you, anyway -- it's indicative of a trend of rising fares that doesn't show signs of any end in sight.

Yesterday, Southwest Airlines became the latest to raise its fares in what appears to be a game of chicken among the airlines. The move, which the airline blames on rising fuel costs, is part of the sixth industry fare hike since January, compared with only four such hikes in all of 2010.

Typically, one airline will raise fares by $20 or so and all the others will take advantage of that by raising their fares as well. But when Delta attempted this last week, American Airlines raised their fares by only $10. The other airlines matched American's increase, forcing Delta to lower its increase to $10 because no airline wants to show up on page 2 of price-sorted fare search results. 

With turmoil in the Middle East pushing oil prices skyward, summer airfares could surge another 25%, according to an article in yesterday's Economic Times.

So, how do you want to play this game? I would buy tickets now on JetBlue, AirTran or Virgin America, the 3 airlines that offer the best refund policies for price drops and then sign up for a Yapta price alert. JetBlue will honor any price drop and will issue the refund in the form of a credit for future travel. AirTran and Virgin offer similar refunds when fares drop by at least $75. Some other airlines -- American, Delta, Continental, US Airways and United among them, have similar policies but fares must drop by at least $150 before refunds are issued. And for all of these, refunds aren't automatic; you have to ask.

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