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How to Find Great Airfare Deals

One upside to the faltering economy: lower ticket prices. Below, five ways to cash in.

1. Use the Web

Reduced fares are just a starting point for online booking sites, which are now looking out for hidden fees and other expenses, too. Yapta.com alerts travelers when they can get money back should a ticket price drop after purchasing; TripAdvisor, which added a booking tool for flights, is the first to include the cost of checking bags in its estimates. And Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz recently eliminated their booking fees. It also pays to sign up with sites like airfarewatchdog.com, which alerts travelers to short-term promotions that can only be booked directly through the airlines.

2. Watch the New Players

When carriers take on new routes, you can expect a fare war. JetBlue and Southwest, for example, recently announced flights between Baltimore and Boston, giving AirTran, which currently dominates that route, a run for its money. Both V Australia and Delta began service from the United States to Australia this year, driving down prices for the existing carriers. And the new Jet America—which launched in July with $9 promotional fares from Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Orlando—is adding more fuel to the fire.

3. Become a Follower

Your friends aren’t the only ones Twittering. Airlines including JetBlue (@JetBlue), Virgin America (@VirginAmerica), and United (@UnitedAirlines) are capitalizing on the trend by tweeting exclusive deals via the Web.

4. Factor in Timing

Knowing the right moment to buy is the holy grail for Web fare watchers—and each has his own advice. Rick Seaney of farecompare.com, for example, advises buying on Tuesday around 3 p.m., since domestic sales often begin late Monday and it takes about a day for other carriers to match the prices. George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com suggests waiting until the discount carriers start selling: JetBlue and Southwest only release tickets six and four months out, respectively, so the major players most likely won’t reduce fares until then.

5. Go for the Upgrade

Using frequent-flier miles remains the cheapest way to bump up a class, and there are more opportunities than ever to cash in. Carriers release premium seats about 24 hours in advance, so call the day before your departure. And if all else fails, ask at the airport. With business travel down, you never know what might be available.

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