If the current round of airline mergers happens, be prepared for them to increase their market share along with their fares and decrease your choices. While the airlines claim they need to merge to keep costs under control, critics shoot back that the traveling public will be hurt by fewer booking choices and surging fares. But you can insulate yourself from these price hikes. Sometimes a good, dedicated travel agent will get you the best deal. Oft times though, you'll find these yourself on-line. Traditional thinking was to explore the web sites of low-cost airlines like Southwest, look for a match that fits your route, and never give it a second thought while you close the deal. However, due, in part, to these mergers that may no longer be true. I suggest spending a few extra minutes and looking at all the web sites, both airlines and airline ticket consolidators (sometimes referred to as 'Bucket Shops') for deals. Here are a few other tips to help you find the best deals:

    – Go directly to the source. Many times airlines will reserve their best deals for those who venture on-line, and sometimes offer bonuses for on-line booking as well.
    – Try a 'Bucket Shop,' because airlines need to get some money for seats that can’t be filled at official fares, often times 'agents' will purchase blocks of tickets and resell them at discounted prices.
    – Timing is everything. Airlines will update their reservation system web site up to three times daily on weekdays, but usually just once a day on weekends. Sometimes the best deals will enter the system during the Friday night lag time, so look on-line either Friday night early on Saturday.
    – Plan in advance. Most airlines let you book nearly a year in advance. Although last minute deals are offered at substantial discounts, these usually are for limited, less popular routes. A good way to lock in that deal is to book as far in advance as possible.

Steve Smith & Christine Johnson