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In 2005, travelers have gotten off to a great start with the announcement of sweeping changes to the way Delta Airlines (www.delta.com) structures its airfares within the contiguous 48 states. What this translates to is some cheaper fares for travelers and the removal or reduction of some of the most irritating restrictions that have been in place for decades. Delta is now leading the way amongst the major US carriers in implementing industry-wide transformations. The modifications are to some extent being picked up by the other major US airlines, meaning more choices for you and your traveling dollar.

The introduction of Delta's "Simplifares" slashes many fares by up to 50% off regular prices and puts them in closer competition with the discount carriers. Now, no fare, including last-minute walk-ups at the airport, is higher than $499 plus taxes one-way in economy or $599 plus taxes one way in first class. Customers booking on Delta.com can choose refundable or non-refundable tickets and save even more by purchasing tickets three, seven or 14-days in advance. The dreaded Saturday night required stay has been removed completely. Fees to change tickets once booked have been drastically reduced from $100 to $50. Although these changes will affect both business and leisure travelers, the greatest benefits will be realized by the business sector, which has long been at the mercy of restrictive airline practices, with severe penalties especially for midweek travel.

The Delta SkyMiles program has also been simplified and customers who purchase tickets through Delta's website can receive 1,000 bonus miles with no direct ticketing fees. Delta has introduced a last minute specials section on its website featuring getaways by destination or theme and the ability to save up to $100 on its regular fares to domestic and international destinations. Other changes and improvements will be made in the coming months as part of Delta's bid to make itself more market competitive.

It's not all good news though. Tickets purchased over the phone from Delta reservations will now cost $5 more per ticket and $10 more if purchased at Delta ticketing locations, including at the airport. Unfortunately, this has become the standard practice with all major carriers. Lower priced, advance-purchase tickets still require a round-trip purchase and most require a one-night stay, even though it doesn't have to be a Saturday. Delta Shuttle flight prices remain high and the Simplifare system does not apply to code-share flights on partner airlines.

American Airlines is matching some of the changes Delta made to its fare structure by eliminating Saturday night stay requirements and lowering last-minute leisure and business fares in many but not all of its domestic markets. Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways have quietly made some limited adjustments, but only replicating Delta's cheaper ticket prices in markets where they go head to head.

On the international front, Qantas (www.qantasusa.com) has just released what has to be its lowest fares ever to Australia. No these discounts aren't for low season flights in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere winter. They are for travel during the perfect Antipodean summer, when Australia's climate is superb, the festivals are in full swing and you can experience the best of Aussie hospitality.

This web deal is for travel February 1 to March 10, 2005, so catch the end of summer Down Under, attend the Formula One Grand Prix or the famed Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras.

As with all discounted flights, these fares are valid on specific Qantas flights only and you'll need to hurry as at these prices, seats are certain to disappear quicker than beer at an Aussie BBQ. These deals expires February 10, 2005.

Sample round-trip prices include:

  • Los Angeles or San Francisco to Sydney $757
  • Dallas, Denver, San Diego or Phoenix to Brisbane $933
  • Washington D.C., Newark, Boston or Miami to Melbourne $1,033
  • New York, Newark or Boston to Cairns $1,381

Taxes of up to $121 are additional, depending on airport of departure. Three-days advance purchase required with a minimum stay of six-days days and a maximum of one month.

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