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Air carriers are always looking for that new angle that will make their brand stand out amongst the crowd, whether it be a logo, a tagline or a straight up decent sale. We, of course, always prefer the latter over everything else -- informing readers about travel within their reach is what we're all about. Today we look at short term sales from a couple of domestic budget carriers, plus a third is giving 200 free tickets out to people on St. Patrick's Day.

So, moving in alphabetical order, we first look at the 48-hour sale being served up by Airtran (tel. 800/AIR-TRAN; www.airtran.com) that serves a myriad of major and minor markets across the US (primarily in the Midwest and East Coast). It flies internationally to the Bahamas as well. You have only until midnight, March 16, to make a reservation, but the travel for most routes is valid through August 22, 2005. The prices are fairly decent, and the exceptions to the rules are few this time around -- tickets must be purchased a minimum of two weeks in advance of your departure, Friday and Saturday flights are not included, and black-out dates are scant (May 30, July 1 and 3; for Boston add April 14-18 and 22-25 to the list).

One-way fares for this sale range from $39 up to $149 and feature some of those cities that typically get passed over for larger markets (like NYC, Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia). So, if you live in Moline, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Normal, Flint, Indianapolis, or Biloxi (to name a few), it's worth taking the time to try out your desired routes to see what you can make of it. Just go to www.airtran.com/destinations/routemap/index.jsp to see a full destination map. You might find a fare that's right for you.

Next up is another shortie, this time from DC-based Independence Air (tel. 800/359-3594; www.flyi.com). You'll have an extra day to make a purchase (reservations must be in no later than midnight, March 17), but your travel window is smaller than Airtran's -- these fares are good from April 1 to May 25. As part of its "Simple Sale" promotion, airline has divided its departure points into three categories: East of the Mississippi, Florida, and West Coast. One-way fares are cheapest for Tuesday and Wednesday flights (starting from $29), go up slightly for Monday or Thursday departures (from $49) and are highest for all other days (from $69).

The company serves fewer markets (in fact, the entire West of the Mississippi is blank on their map until you get to Nevada, California & Washington), but you can see them all at www.flyi.com/too-destinations.htm. Note that some West Coast destinations become available starting May 1.

Sale fares for either company to not reflect additional taxes and security fees, which vary per route.

Now for That Contest

When you think of St. Patrick's Day, naturally you think of ... Hawaii? Well, no matter. Suntrips (tel. 800/786-8747; www.suntrips.com) -- a purveyor of airfares and packages for the budget-minded to Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Azores -- just announced a one-day contest to give away 200 tickets to most places the company flies (excluding the Azores and Cozumel).

On March 17, 2005, the company will allow readers to enter the "Pot of Gold" sweepstakes via its website. If your first name is either Patrick or Patricia or your surname is Green, click the Leprechaun; if those names don't apply to you, then click the four-leaf clover to get a password and a time to call Suntrips to try to win. (At the time of this writing, neither option was available publicly for us to test.) Regardless, you'll need to either mention the St. Patrick's Day Giveaway, give the correct password or claim to be named Patrick, Patricia or Green. Phew! Seems a little convoluted to us, but remember, contests are always a way for companies to try and garner some extra publicity and teach consumers about their wares. And as past experienced has shown us, when the company offered a similar giveaway two years ago, their phones were swamped. We suggest checking the site as early as midnight, EST, to gain access to the information and try your luck at winning.

Please note: while the airfare is technically free, as in most contests, winners will still have to pay any applicable taxes -- in this case, somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.

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