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American Airlines Barbados Sale

Okay, so your bff Martha Stewart left you stranded at the helipad. You missed your ride to St. Barts, and that's not a good thing. Well bub, instead of sobbing over craft projects that could have been, zip on down to just-as-chic Barbados. American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) is having a sale on summer travel through August 28, for bookings made by July 3. Fares include:

Virgin America Summer Splash Sale

Are your local firework displays just not up to par? Need to shuffle yourself someplace special for the Fourth of July? Virgin America (tel. 877/359-8474; www.virginamerica.com) is having a Summer Splash Fare Sale, on travel through the first week in July. All purchases must be made by June 25, and fares include:

Midwest Airlines Independence Day Sale

Midwest Airlines (tel. 800/452-2022; www.midwestairlines.com) is also running a little Independence Day sale, on travel from June 26 through July 6. Tickets must be booked by June 23 and fares include:

Continental Says No More Cologne

No, no, they're not asking you to stop using cologne. Or deodorant, after-shave, toilet water, eau de wawa and whatever other fancy tricks you've got in your toiletries kit. Continental (tel. 800/525-0280; www.continental.com) recently announced that they will stop flying to Cologne, Germany, by Labor Day after little over 2 years of service marks the end of what was consistently one of the least expensive -- and probably least profitable -- routes to continental Europe. Remember those $230 round-trip fares with taxes back in the winter of 2007 when the route was young and oil was cheap? Well, just hold on to that memory because it'll be something to tell your grandkids about.

The closure of this route adds at least another couple of nails in the coffin of transatlantic competition and at this rate, the whole hard-won Open Skies caboodle that after years of negotiation was meant to herald a surge in traffic and bargains galore seems headed for an early funeral, a fast victim of OPEC and circumstance.

But for now, fares to Cologne remain pretty cheap, and -- from many cities -- are the lowest European destination for late summer travel. Fares from Newark start at $640, and from Houston at $780, both round-trip and including taxes. Be sure to check out or fare page for Cologne for a look at fares from your neck of the woods.

$15 Baggage Fees Really Catching On

Do balled-up socks fit best in your underarms, or should you just do the whole swallow-it-in-a-balloon trick like you saw on Cops? Well, you may soon be inclined to find out, gentle traveler. Both United and US Airways announced plans last week to charge $15 for first checked bags. And really, the only thing shocking here is that it took them so long to catch up with American Airlines, who set the trend for $15 1st-bag charges last month. Even the low cost little guys are getting in on it, with Spirit saying they'll also up fees to $15 for luggage checked in online, and $25 if you spring it on Â?em at the airport. We imagine this will have nightmarish affects on TSA checkpoints (where liquids and gels were never fully mastered), as passengers attempt to dodge new fees with stuffed-to-capacity carry-ons. Then there's the little matter of collecting payment for checking bags, which -- even with the option to pay online -- is bound to make checking-in a tad longer. For United passengers, the new rule applies to all tickets purchased for travel on or after August 18, and for US Airways tickets on or after July 9. Also on the climb, United's fee for 3 or more checked bags has increased from $100 to $125, and oversized/heavy items from $200 to $250.

If you're an elite level frequent flyer, or flying in first class, you are -- of course -- exempt from these new fees.

US Airways will start charging $2 for non-alcoholic beverages, such as soda and juice, in August. Probably the days of free drinks in economy class are numbered.

It's a Bird, it's a Plane, it's a...Bus?

Actually, it's a bit of all of the above: basic bus service on wings that hopefully won't start flapping too much. It's VivaAerobus (tel. 888/FLY-VIVA; www.vivaaerobus.com), so it is alive in some way, maybe even airy and vivacious, but most importantly -- drumroll, please -- it's free! Before taxes, that is, as you rightly guessed (hey, we know you're not that easily fooled). Including everything except checked luggage, the total fare on the new nonstop Austin to Monterrey route comes to $160. Not exactly free but definitely cheap, and since it's all taxes at least you know it's for a really good cause.

Bringing more than a carry-on will add $20 to the cost of the trip, which means you'll essentially be traveling as a free companion to your fancy fake Louis Vuitton steamer trunk. All told, it's almost $300 less than competition connecting service for summer travel and it sure beats trying to outrun the border patrol. Similar deals with similar savings are available to Cancún for just under $200 and connections are possible through the Monterrey hub to 20 other Mexican destinations, many of those also free before taxes.

VivaAerobus is the aviation venture of Mexco's biggest bus company, IAMSA. While it may be a relative latecomer to the new breed of booming bottom-feeding, bargain-basement, bare-bones airlines south of the border, it has first-mover advantage in the American market and comes with serious backing from notoriously cheap-thrills, no-frills Ryanair. Additional free routes are planned from Austin to Guadalajara, Leon, Puebla, and Queretaro, while another hub in Gary, Indiana, is rumored to be in the works.

Additional Reporting by Tracy W. Stewartand Bo Borre

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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