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AirTran's New Service and New Sale

After adding Phoenix to their growing roster earlier in the month, AirTran (tel. 800/AIR-TRAN; www.airtran.com) will add even more new routes this spring, beginning May 8 with St. Louis, and May 24 with San Diego and Charleston, S.C. Plus, Seattle service will resume on May 8 as well. AirTran is also having a "You Can't Really Call it a Vacation if You Don't Go Anywhere" (www.airtran.com/sale/) sale on summer fares through August 22, for purchase by March 8. These sale fares are lowest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, but are not available for travel on Sundays. A few sample one-way fares are listed below:

  • Atlanta to Charleston: $59
  • Chicago to Minneapolis: $39
  • Phoenix to Boston $109:
  • Ft. Lauderdale to Charleston: $79
  • Detroit to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island: $104

Southwest Airlines New Sale, New Site

Have you checked out the Southwest Airlines (tel. 800 I FLY SWA; www.southwest.com) website lately? New graphics, new look, and it's about time, IOHO. They're also have a system wide sale that you must book by March 8. Fares are definitely creeping up, though, with the top fare now $169 one-way (we remember when these sales topped out at $99, then $109, then $119, then $129, then $139...). Travel is through August 24, and other airlines are matching or beating, although in many cases Southwest is the only airline flying certain routes nonstop. Blackout dates apply on flights to/from Florida from March 9 to April 23.

Qantas Sale to Australia

Qantas (tel. 800/227-4500; www.qantas.com) is having a sale from U.S. cities to Australia, with fares as low as $1,048 round-trip. Fares are at their lowest between May 1 to June 3, or July 24 to September 21. If you're scratching your head and wondering why on earth a sale fare would be at its lowest during the summer months, remember that these are actually winter months in Australia. For those who wish to travel between March 15 and April 7, tack on an additional $150, and $200 for travel between February 27 and March 14 or between July 15 and July 23. This sale expires March 9. Advertised sample round-trip fares, before taxes, include:

  • Las Vegas to Sydney is $1,138 on Qantas, before tax. By searching ITA software (www.itasoftware.com) or a 30-day flexible date search on Orbitz.com, we were able to find this for $1309 round-trip, with all taxes, for departure July 30 through August 7 on US Airways (United operated code share flights) as opposed to Qantas' $1,384 with tax for the same dates.
  • JFK to Sydney is $1,348 on Qantas, before tax. This fare is readily available throughout late summer for $1,450 and $1,499 round-trip with all taxes, again on US Airways, but we were able to find it at its absolute cheapest for $1,422, round-trip with all taxes, on Air Tahiti for August 17 through August 26. Again, this is just a slight difference than the $1,466 fare offered by Qantas for these dates.
  • San Francisco to Melbourne is $1,148 on Qantas, before tax. We found $1,258 round-trip with all taxes for July 25 through August 3, on the Qantas website.
  • Seattle to Brisbane is $1,368 on Qantas, before tax, which ends up being $1,493 with tax. It's the best fare we found for this route, available on the Qantas website.
  • St Louis to Sydney is $1,328 on Qantas, before tax. By using ITA software, we found $1,510 on Qantas, round-trip with tax. Using the same dates, we found $1,510 on the Qantas website.

All in all, this is a pretty decent sale. When you're paying $1,300 for a flight, the $75 difference is kind of a drop in the bucket. Many would prefer to fly on Australia's national carrier simply for the experience, and there are some who may want to save that $75 for airport transportation and glossy magazines to read on the way.

New Service Notes

Delta Airlines (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) will begin new service from Salt Lake City to Yakima, Washington as well as to Oregon's capital city of Salem, beginning June 7. Currently Salem has no scheduled commercial airline service and hasn't in 10 years, since Horizon Air left town in 1993. Flights to Salem will be twice daily, and Yakima will be available twice daily but only until September, when flights will decrease to one a day.

And in other new service notes, Southern Skyways (tel. 877/235-9768; www.southernskyways.com) is taking to the skies beginning May 25, 2007, with "scheduled public charter" service between Cincinnati and Charleston, WV for $39 each way, to Myrtle Beach for $99 each way, and between Charleston and Myrtle Beach for $99 each way.

And Midwest Airlines (tel. 800/452-2002; www.midwestairlines.com) is launching new service between Milwaukee and Seattle (begins June 18) and between Kansas City and Seattle (begins April 1).

A Better Option for Earning those Frequent Flyer Miles?

If you're the kind who doesn't want to put all your frequent flyer miles in one "basket" a good solution is to get an American Express card. The Gold Business Card is fee-free for the first year, and you get 5,000 bonus points for your first purchase and another 5,000 after you spend $20,000 on the card, and then a whopping 20,000 points after you spend $50,000 on the Card, which isn't hard to do when you're running a business. And then you get 10,000 points when you renew your card after the first year. So if you charge $5,000 a month, you get 100,000 points, 40,000 of which are bonus points. Plus, there's no limit on the points you can earn, as there are with some cards.

But what we really like is that we can transfer the points not just to one airline, but to over two dozen carriers, such as JetBlue, ANA, AeroMexico, Continental, Virgin, Frontier, Air Canada, ANA, Hawaiian, Delta, Air France, AirTran, ElAl, Southwest, and Cathay. You can also redeem the points for flights without restrictions of any kind using the Amex Travel website.

New Twists on Airline Frequent Flyer Cards

In order to entice sign ups, airlines are adding non-traditional benefits to their frequent flyer credit cards. For example, Continental Airlines' Chase Card gives you 15,000 bonus miles on first purchase, which isn't anything new, but in addition they offer a 5 per cent discount off of all flight purchases when charged to the card. Now that's a pretty good deal. Let's say you spend $1000 on two flights to Europe. Voila, you've nearly paid for the $65 annual fee, plus of course you get a mile for each dollar charged. No other airline frequent flyer credit card gives you miles plus a discount.

Other perks are a fixed 8 percent APR for six months, double OnePass miles on Continental Airlines (tel. 800/525-0280; www.continental.com) purchases and at select merchants and participating restaurants, two Presidents Club passes per year (believe it or not, this is a $90 value), and two travel discount certificates that they claim offer up to $200 in savings every year, but there are significant catches, chief among them that the coupons can't be applied to fare classes T, Q, S, L, I, W or X, which, you guessed it, are the best fares.

In addition, OnePass miles don't expire and there's no limit on how many miles you can earn per year, as there is on some Citibank/American Airlines Aadvantage cards.

And over at British Airways, they're offering the usual 15,000 bonus sign up miles, but they also give you unlimited, free companion tickets on first, business, and premium economy fares. The catch here: the two-fer-ones only appliy to full fares, not the discounted first, business, and premium economy fares that are sometimes available and that can slash the cost of these cabins by a good amount. However, they also offer $20 off any ticket purchased with the card on BA's site. While this is a piddling amount, if you fly BA a lot it can cover the annual fee of this card, which is a hefty $75 per year.

Let Virgin America Fly!

If you've flown Virgin Atlantic (tel. 800/862-8621; www.virgin-atlantic.com), you know what a great airline they can be. Now they want to fly domestic US routes under the banner of Virgin America. But lobbyists for the big US airlines are doing their darndest to make sure that doesn't happen.

Here at Airfarewatchdog.com (www.airfarewatchdog.com), we're all for airline competition. After all, it leads to lower fares, fare wars, and all that good stuff. We have signed a petition to our representatives in Congress asking that the US DOT clear the way for Virgin America to take flight, and ask you to do the same. Visit their website (www.letvafly.com) for more information.

RSS Fare Feeds

And on a final note, we are pleased to announce that Airfarewatchdog.com (www.airfarewatchdog.com) is now available via RSS feed. This is especially great news for those newsletter subscribers who were having deliverability issues du

e to spam guards, and makes it much more simple to track the latest fare developments throughout the day from more than one metropolitan area. If you're a newbie to RSS, and a lot of people are, we suggest checking out Google Reader (www.google.com/reader). It's awfully simple to use and we think, once you get the hang of it, you'll really enjoy it.

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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