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AirTran's 3-Day System-Wide Sale

AirTran (tel. 800/247-8726; www.airtran.com), has launched another system-wide sale, with fares starting as low as $29 each way (round-trip purchase not required). Other airlines haven't matched these fares on all routes at the time we write this, but may do so by the time you read.

Sample one-way fares before taxes and fees:

  • Boston to/from Rochester: $29
  • Dallas to/from Chicago: $59
  • Minneapolis to/from Memphis: $49

As is often the case, the long-haul fares, mainly to California, aren't as good a value, compared to what other airlines are offering:

  • Milwaukee to/from Denver: $119 one-way (vs. $89 one-way on Northwest with round-trip purchase)
  • Pittsburgh to/from Las Vegas: $139 one-way (vs. $79 one-way on United with round-trip purchase)

    For the lowest fares, travel Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday through March 1, 2007. Fares are higher on other days, and this sale doesn't apply to Sunday travel. A 14-day advance purchase is required. Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 PM EST on December 21, 2006. We expect other airlines to match this sale on many routes, although they may require a round-trip purchase.

    Scandinavian's May Sale

    Scandinavian Airlines (tel. 800/221-2350; www.flysas.com) is offering low fares to Scandinavia for travel originating between May 18, 2007 and May 23, 2007. Granted, that's an unusually narrow travel window, but these fares are pretty good. Here are some sample fares including taxes and fees:

    Depart May 19, Return May 27

    • Boston to Copenhagen $739 vs. $696 on Icelandair
    • Newark to Helsinki $752 vs. $735 on Finnair from New York-JFK

    Depart May 22, Return May 30

    • Hartford to Oslo $759 vs. $645 on Continental
    • Newark to Stockholm $726 vs. $639 on Continental

    As you can see, other airlines have beaten these sale fares, but they're relatively a decent value. Travel must originate between May 18, 2007 and May 23, 2007. A Saturday night minimum stay is required. The maximum stay is 6 months.

    Save 20% on Select Alaska Airlines Flights

    Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/252-7522; www.alaskaair.com) is offering a 20 per cent discount on flights between select California airports (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento) and Montana or Idaho; and on flights between Oregon and Nevada. Other airlines typically do not match these fares, and you won't find them listed on Travelocity or on any automated fare alert or fare comparison site. To receive the discount, enter e-certificate code EC06606 when making reservations at www.alaskaair.com. Travel between January 3, 2007 and February 14, 2007. This offer expires December 24, 2006.

    Examples, all one-way and including taxes:

    Delta Sale: Fun in the Sun

    Delta Air lines (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) has discounted fares from Atlanta to several warmer destinations. Below are some sample fares including all taxes and fees:

    Depart January 17, Return January 24

    • Atlanta to Antigua $466 vs. $443 on US Airways
    • Atlanta to Bermuda $436 vs. $443 on Continental

    Depart March 8, Return March 15

    • Atlanta to Mexico City $394 vs. next lowest $361 on American
    • Atlanta to Nassau $286 vs. $295 on American

    As you can see, most of these fares have been matched or beaten by other airlines. There is a 3-night minimum stay and a 3-day advance purchase. Blackout dates vary by destination. All travel must be completed by April 30, 2007. Purchase your tickets by December 25, 2006.

    Flyer Beware: Spirit Changes Baggage Allowance

    Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117; www.spiritair.com) has announced on its website that it will be reducing its checked bag allowance to one bag. The standard baggage allowance on all U.S. airlines has been two checked bags. Spirit has made the first move in changing this standard. We can only hope that other major airlines don't follow suit. Beginning on all Spirit flights departing on or after February 10, 2007, Spirit will transport one bag free of charge. A second bag will incur a charge of (gulp!) $100. This move may prove to be hugely unpopular among customers and may negate the popularity of the airline's low fares.

    "No Blackout" Airline Miles Credit Cards

    Airline passengers are often frustrated to learn, as I was recently, that although they have thousands of miles in their frequent flyer accounts, they can't spend them thanks to capacity controls and blackout dates. One way to get around these restrictions is to sign up for a credit card that allows you to earn travel credits on any airline, and spend them without restrictions. Two cards worth considering are the Capital One No Hassle Miles card and BlueSky from American Express. With Capital One's standard card (which earns you 1.25 points for every dollar charged) if you spend $12,000, say, on your card you get a credit of $150 toward any airline ticket purchase (they also offer an "Ultra" card with a $39 annual membership fee that awards 2 miles for each dollar charged). American Express' card, which awards one point for each dollar spent, gives you a $100 credit for every $7500 charged.

    It's pretty easy to figure out how these programs stack up against traditional airline frequent flyer cards. For example, if you charge $15,000 to a Delta SkyMiles card or American's Citibank AAdvantage card, you won't have enough for a free domestic coach fare from, say, New York to Ft. Lauderdale. This route usually costs about $69 to $79 each way or requires 25,000 frequent flyer miles, assuming that seats are even available when you want to fly. But with the No Hassle Rewards or BlueSky card, you're able to buy a fare like this with 12,000-15,000 miles or points. A first-class, frequent flyer domestic ticket on American with no capacity or blackout restrictions (often the only kind of reward that's available these days, since first class cabins are so full) now requires a whopping 120,000 miles. In Amex's BlueSky program, 120,000 points would buy you $1600 worth of travel. But, to cite just one fare example, a first class ticket from Baltimore to Ontario, California on American and other airlines when last we checked costs $1158 round-trip including taxes, so you'd actually only need 90,000 BlueSky points to buy such a ticket compared to American's 120,000 miles.

    So in many cases, these no-restriction cards are not just easier to use, but are actually better value. In addition to "costing" less to use, they also eliminate the scenario where you have a few thousand miles scattered on several airlines, but can't combine or transfer them to earn a free ride. The downside is that you don't earn miles for flying or for all the other tie-ins such as credit card sign up bonuses, phone service, sending flowers, and the like. Plus, you can't use points to upgrade a coach class fare to business or first class. So they're not for everyone, but if you're over not being able to use your miles when you want to, then you might consider signing up.

    A couple of things to consider: if you travel abroad a lot, the Capital One card, unlike almost all others, does not charge a foreign currency transaction fee. But to redeem your rewards, you have to go through Capital One, whereas with American Express you can buy your travel anywhere or any way you wish -- directly from an airline or a travel agent, for instance, and you can use your points not just for air travel but also for hotel stays, cruises, or tours. However, another fine point to consider with Amex: if you redeem 15,000 points for a $200 credit towards a $153 car rental purchase, you don't get the excess "unspent" points back, so be sure to spend your points wisely. Both the standard Capital One card and BlueSky have no annual membership fee. It's also worth noting that BlueSky currently has a 0% introductory interest rate, and that Amex typically replaces a lost or stolen card within 24 hours or sometimes the same day, which bank-issued cards such as Capital One's can't do.

    George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and other fare sales.

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