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Off-Peak Holiday Sale

Finally! The airlines have loosened up and are offering some decent last-minute holiday fares. In past years, they've done this earlier in the season. Better late than never. You can get a sense of what's up by visiting Delta's (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) "Sale for the Season" deal. The fares don't seem knock your socks off low at first glance. We've seen Cincinnati/Atlanta for less than $158 round-trip before, for instance. But what's significant is that you can travel that route any day from Dec 25 through Jan 1, except the Monday after Christmas. Last day of travel is officially Jan 1, 2006 but New Year's Day is pretty much sold out (give it a try anyway). Indeed, in the time this sale was announced a few days ago, many routes and dates are sold out.

That said, for $158 round-trip you can fly from Boston to Washington on Dec 25 via Delta (other airlines are matching) leaving as early as 9 AM (home for Xmas dinner and presents?) and return Dec 29-31; or Jan 1, 5, or 6.

Other routes on sale include: Boston to Halifax at $218 round-trip with the sale versus $252 round-trip through Travelocity on all the other major airlines; Atlanta to Toronto $238 round-trip ($261 with taxes) versus a next lowest of $315 with taxes on Delta if you book through Travelocity, Orbitz or another third-party site rather than on Delta's web site (when Orbitz first began, they insisted that their partner airlines would share all of their lowest fares with it, but this apparently is no longer the case: lately Delta has been going its own way, offering its very best fares at Delta.com only). Tickets must be purchased by December 23, 2005.

So if you were giving up hope for last-minute cheap holiday fares, your prayers may have been answered. We have listed and checked availability for many of these fares on the Airfarewatchdog.com city pages. Use a Travelocity flexible date search and you may be surprised what you find.

Web-Only Special to Australia

Qantas Airways (tel. 888/256-1775; www.qantas.com) is having a Web-only sale between New York JFK and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns. This is sale is pretty good, but availability is rather limited, so I we suggest you book soon. Looking at a round-trip fare between New York JFK and Sydney, departing on May 8 and returning on May 20, 2006, the sale price (including taxes and fees) is $1,375 round-trip compared to a next-lowest fare on Travelocity at $1,418 on United. The same dates between New York JFK and Brisbane goes for $1452 (next lowest on Travelocity is $1566 on American). The lowest fares are for travel May 1 through June 8, 2006 or July 24 through August 31, 2006, but for $160 more, you can travel February 1 through April 30 or June 9 through July 23, 2006. Qantas' fare finder is handy, because it lists fares three days before and after your specified dates, allowing you to easily see if you can save some money traveling a bit earlier or later. In addition, you can stop over in Los Angeles or Sydney for $150 each direction, plus any additional taxes or fees. Tickets must be purchased by January 6, 2006.

Save 20 Percent with Alaska's "Insider" Sale

Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/252-7522; www.alaskaair.com) is offering a 20 percent discount on select routes. These include flights between cities in Washington State and Boston, Chicago, Newark and Washington, D.C. Dulles; between Los Angeles and Cancun, Guadalajara, Loreto, Los Cabos, and Mexico City; and between San Diego and Los Cabos. The discount applies for travel between January 4, 2006 and February 28, 2006. Blackouts are between February 16 and 21, 2006. To get the discount, enter in the e-Certificate code EC08005 when you make your reservation at Alaskaair.com. This e-Certificate offer ends December 25, 2005.

AA's Sale on Select Cities and Ski Destinations

American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) is having sale to/from select cities and ski destinations. Most of the fares are between ski destinations and either Dallas/Ft. Worth or Chicago. The sale isn't awful, since you'll save a few dollars, but the savings aren't monumental; in fact, you'll often be able to get lower fares elsewhere. For example, with the sale, Dallas/Ft. Worth to Calgary is $314 round-trip, while Travelocity shows that most of the other major airlines is offering that route for $316 round-trip. Los Angeles to Vail is $268 round-trip with the sale, while Travelocity is showing that American and United offer an even lower fare, at $209 round-trip, if you're flexible with travel dates. And Chicago to Jackson Hole is $290 round-trip in the sale, whereas American, Northwest and United all have a $239 round-trip fare on Travelocity. So this sale isn't much of a sale. Travel January 15 through February 17, 2006 for travel Sunday through Tuesday to the ski destinations; from the slopes, travel Wednesday through Friday. Tickets must be purchased by December 31, 2005.

Southwest Bargains

Southwest (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) has reduced many fares for travel from January 3 to the end of March, and other airlines, if they're matching at all, are mostly doing so only with a round-trip purchase (Southwest sells all its fares one-way, double for round-trip). Using Orlando as an example: Orlando/Phoenix is $94 one-way on Southwest, and although US Air is officially matching, they're mostly sold out, where as Southwest.com has plenty of seats at present. Sacramento/Orlando is $88 one-way (again, lots of seats) for travel Jan 6- Feb 5. Next lowest one-way is on Continental at $107, although most airlines on the route offer a $176 round-trip fare. More Southwest deals are listed, with commentary on availability, on the Airfarewatchdog Orlando page. As always, the best way to find seats is to use Southwest's "Shortcut" function.

In addition, Southwest's weekly Click 'n Save specials are highlighting San Diego this week, but many other destinations are included and some competitors are matching. San Diego to/from Denver is $94 one-way, no roundtrip purchase required (versus $129 one-way on US Airways); San Diego to/from Las Vegas is $34 one-way (versus $49 one-way on US Airways); and San Diego to/from Baltimore is $114 one-way (versus $129 one-way on Continental). Fares range from $34 to $124 one-way and as always you may do better with a Southwest Ding fare. Purchase by December 22, midnight Pacific Time; travel January 10 through June 9, 2006 (most other airlines only have travel through March); and comply with the 21-day advance purchase requirement. These fares are available only on Southwest's site.

Additional reporting by Kim Liang Tan.

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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