Yes, fares on many routes are much more expensive this holiday season than last, but airfares are not static and there are (relative) deals to be had any time of year. Here is Airfarewatchdog.com's best advice for making your airfare dollars go farther no matter what the time of year.
1.Sign up for the airlines' e-mail feeds and frequent flyer programs. We know, you already get too much e-mail, but the airlines want to develop a one-on-one relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals, such as 50 percent off promo codes or two-fers, if you sign up. Airline sites sell much more than airfares these days (hotels, rental cars, credit cards and such).
2. Sign up for third-party fare alerts. Many airfare websites offer alerts, and they all have something to offer. Yapta.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, Bing Travel, TripAdivsor.com/flights and FareCompare.com all offer fare alerts.
3. Search airline sites individually, but not exclusively. As noted above, many airlines have "private" sales, reserving their very best fares for their own sites. These are different from promo code fares.
4. Buy hotel-plus-air packages. It's often significantly cheaper to buy an air-plus-hotel package rather than airfare alone, especially for last minute travel. Travelocity and Lastminute.com are great sources for finding last-minute packages.
5. Use Priceline for last minute trips. If you don't have a 7-, 14-, or 21-day advance purchase window to buy your fare, your best bet is the "name your own price" feature of Priceline.com. Hotwire.com can also be useful for last-minute trips.
6. Use consolidators, but beware of the restrictions. Especially with the economic downturn, business and first-class cabins will be emptier in 2010, and deals will be amazing. Check the specials on consolidator and airline websites.
7. Use a flexible date search. True, many people are not flexible in their travel dates, but would you fly in a different month or a day or two earlier or later to save hundreds of bucks? If so, learn how to do a flexible travel date search on airline and third-party sites.
8. Consider the extra fees before you buy. If Southwest has a fare of $198 round-trip and United has one for $148, and you are checking three bags, then Southwest actually has the lowest fare because Southwest charges nothing for the first two checked bags, whereas United would charge you an additional $165 each way for three.
9. Combine two separate fares rather than buying one fare. If you're flying to a destination in Europe, you might save money by purchasing one fare from the U.S. to, say, Dublin, and another from Dublin onward on Ryanair.com (just beware of Ryanair's rather onerous fees). Even domestically, two fares are often less than one.
10. Buy tickets on an airline that will refund the difference if a fare goes down. Let's say you've found the lowest fare, and then the day after purchase your nonrefundable fare for the same itinerary goes down. If you ask for it, you can get a refund for the difference. But some airlines will charge you a costly "administrative" fee.
11. Check fares several times a day, and don't listen to airfare pundits who predict airfares. A lot of people like to pretend they're clairvoyant, and they know where airfares are headed. But airlines are unpredictable creatures, and any airfare expert who claims he or she knows that airfares will be lower or higher in the coming months or the coming day is suspect.