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Here's what's happening in the wacky world of airfares this week.

Airtran $25 Coupon

Airtran is offering a $25 coupon good for travel thru June 24 to/from Atlanta if you sign up for their "special offers" alerts before February 15. It's a good idea to sign up even if you're not going to Atlanta, since Airtran often sends out discount coupon codes in their emails.

Midwest Airlines Sale

Midwest Airlines has lowered fares between 10% and 20% on various routes for travel February 18 through June 10. Other airlines are matching, although Midwest flies many of these routes nonstop and the others don't. Purchase tickets by February 18.

Northwest Refuses to Honor "Fat Finger Fares"

Did you hear about the Northwest Airlines fat finger fare snafu? Seems like a bunch of people bought $0 and up fares, which showed up on Travelocity.com but not www.nwa.com, on Northwest departing Minneapolis. But Northwest has refused to honor the mistake. Airfarewatchdog received an email from a reader who tells us that she purchased a $150 fare from Minneapolis to Las Vegas through Travelocity, and that soon after she received the following email:

Dear Valued Traveler,

On Thursday February 5th, Northwest Airlines filed a number of fares in error. Since then, Northwest has informed their travel partners that they will not honor the fares that were filed in error. In the best interests of our customers, like you, who booked one of these fares, we have voided the flight you purchased. Your credit card will not be charged and Travelocity service fees associated with your booking will be refunded. We apologize for any inconvenience. If you require assistance with booking new travel arrangements, please call us at 1-800-482-2422.

Thanks,

Proactive Customer Care

We sort of understand why Northwest would not honor a $0 fare, but if in fact it backed out of a $150 fare, that's another story in our opinion. And if this is true, Comments many people commenting on this seem to agree.

What actually happened to our reader was this: She bought a fare from Travelocity from Minneapolis to Phoenix for her son and a friend; Northwest was the ticketing carrier to Las Vegas and then they were to take a connecting flight on US Air to Phoenix. So most likely it was the connecting flight that triggered the $150.

My feeling is that someone should step to the plate on this -- whoever made the mistake, and NW should explain who the culprit was (how about a little transparency here?). Northwest filed the fare, Travelocity sold it.

Look at it this way: she's buying two tickets for her son and his friend. They buy the tickets, thinking it's something they can afford. They buy their hotels in Phoenix (maybe non refundable, as many of the cheapest rates are these days), call their friends, tell them they're coming, maybe buy some tickets to a sporting event. Maybe this is all a stretch financially, but the low fare made them bite and they went for it.

And then, suddenly, the trip isn't something they can afford, because the fare has doubled. Maybe fares have jumped even higher (fares do fluctuate like the wind, as you know). So what now?

I think these kids deserve a little sympathy at the very least. Why are airlines and Travelocity not held to the same consumer standards as other retailers? I realize that for some of us, $300 or $400 isn't a lot of money and we'd say, So what, stuff happens, I'll pay it. But I have a feeling that in these tough economic times, for these folks, it's a lot of dough.

Of course, some even think that $0 or not, a deal is a deal. In the past, airlines have indeed honored $0 fares, which have become increasingly rare as airlines make their computer systems more fool proof.

This just in: Kathy received an offer from Travelocity to replace the canceled fare for $245 plus tax, but she had already bought two tickets at $345. Was Travelocity feeling bad about this? At least they tried.

Paris in August Still on Sale, but Seats Harder to Find

Although seats are becoming scarce on many dates, you can still fly on US Air to Paris in the $600s round-trip including tax from many US airports in late August and through September. On other summer dates, fares remain stubbornly high at over twice that much. We continue to list many of these fares as we find seats.

Europe Spring Travel on Sale

Speaking of (relatively) cheap seats to Europe, many airlines have sort of reasonable fares for outbound travel through April 2 with a 30 day maximum stay, meaning you can be in Europe through early May. Springtime, of course, is the ideal time to visit Europe, but since most people take their vacations in July and August that's when the airlines jack up prices. We found some really great deals especially to Dublin, such as Los Angeles or San Francisco to Dublin at $393 round trip including taxes, and Aer Lingus is having a spring and summer sale, which ends February 20, to Europe with relatively decent fares. The Irish carrier's business class fares to Ireland have also been greatly reduced for spring and summer travel, on sale through February 28.

We're finding that unadvertised international fares are changing almost daily recently, going up $100 one day, and down the same amount the next. So check frequently. We invite you to poke around our international destination search box, which will show you all the fares we've found to a particular international destination. Often, we find, a fare to London from, say, Chicago will be $600, but from St. Louis it might be $1,200. So by adding a cheap St. Louis to Chicago fare on top of the ex-Chicago international fare, you can play travel agent and save a ton of money.

Australia Still on Sale for (Down Under) Summer Travel

We're not sure if anyone really wants to visit Australia right now, what with the fires and all, but it's certainly seldom been a better time to buy fares. United is still offering no advance purchase, peak-season fares to Sydney. From LA, for example, you'll pay just $808 round-trip, including tax. We usually see this price point for off peak travel with advance purchase restrictions, and new low fares from and to the Queen City.

Be Flexible and Save

If you can adjust your travel dates a bit, or a lot, you'll often fly for less. We've noticed that many airlines Web sites (such as www.aerlingus.com, www.jetlbue.com, www.aa.com, and www.airfrance.us) now by default send you to flexible date search results, which we applaud. But they usually only offer results over a one week to one month period. We've put together a handy chart showing some of the airline and "third party" (i.e., Travelocity, Kayak, and such) sites that also offer flexible date searching and how to use them.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.

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