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July 28, 2003 -- Is it the end of July already? Wow, that summer went fast -- and now we're starting to see airlines' official fall fare sales to Europe.

But there's a secret that might save you money: there are even lower fares floating around that aren't being heavily advertised. Airlines have already set their schedules and fares all the way through the fall, and if you search sites like Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz for fares in late October or November, you'll find prices lower than those on the "Fall Sale" ads.

We've seen four sales this week that caught our fancy. But as we discovered when checking them out, shopping around -- or waiting until later in the fall to fly -- can really pay off.

Enter the Sales

Virgin is offering decent fares to London for travel between September 4 and October 29, as long as you purchase your tickets by August 1 at www.virgin-atlantic.com. The best fares are only available on midweek flights -- outbound Mon-Wed, returning Tue-Thu. If that's OK with you, prices are $336 roundtrip from New York; $356 from Boston; $396 from Washington, D.C.; $456 from Miami and $476 from LA or San Francisco -- plus the usual $100 or so tax.

For most of those cities, for flights during September, those prices are great. But that New York fare isn't the lowest available. We found an unadvertised $356 fare including tax on Air India for September flights on Expedia (www.expedia.com).

And if you're willing to wait a little longer, the unadvertised fares get better. When we checked late October dates on Expedia, we saw an unadvertised fare of $452 including tax from Chicago to London on Delta, and a $576 fare including tax from LA to Paris on Northwest. For November dates, the fares are even lower: we found $422 including tax from Chicago to London and $464 from Dallas to London, both on Delta.

Aer Lingus, meanwhile, has some really crazy fares lurking in the depths of their current online sale. For travel between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15, they're advertising $398 from Baltimore, New York or Boston to Shannon, $398 from Boston to Dublin, $418 from Baltimore or New York to Dublin or from Boston to Shannon, and $448 from Chicago or LA to Dublin -- all plus tax.

But dig deeper, and you'll find that for trips from Oct. 16 to Dec. 16, there's a terrific $228 fare from Boston/Baltimore/New York to Shannon. Boston/Baltimore/New York to Dublin sells for $248, Chicago to Dublin for $288 and LA to Dublin is $388 plus tax. Now we're talking. Book online at www.aerlingus.com.

Icelandair's current fall sale (www.icelandair.com) covers trips anytime in September or October. Their prices are decent, but you might be able to do better elsewhere. More enticingly, all Icelandair fares come with a free stopover of up to three days in Reykjavik, a beautiful and unique town in a gorgeous country. If Iceland entices you, maybe these fares will (none include the usual $100 tax):

  • Boston/Baltimore/New York to Reykjavik: $406
  • Boston/Baltimore/New York to Glasgow/London/Amsterdam/Frankfurt/Paris: $414
  • Boston to Stockholm/Oslo/Copenhagen: $414
  • Minneapolis/Orlando to Reykjavik: $456
  • Minneapolis/Orlando all to the other destinations listed above: $464

Buy by calling 800/223-5500, ext. 2 and asking for the "Lucky Fares" offer. Beware, this offer expires August 4, so buy now if you're interested.

US Airways has the strangest sale of all. Apparently, they're just trying to get rid of a few extra summer seats on flights to Europe. They're promising prices of $434 (plus tax) for trips to London, $437 to Frankfurt and $446 to Amsterdam for very limited seats on very specific flights departing throughout July and August and returning at the end of August or the beginning of September. When we checked, plenty of discount tickets were available, though these minimum fares seem to be from Philadelphia (not a surprise, since that's their hub). Other fares we found were:

  • Charlotte to Amsterdam: $482
  • Charlotte to London: $484
  • Kansas City to Amsterdam: $504
  • New Orleans to Amsterdam: $518

It's worth punching your city into this unusual sale and seeing what comes up. Go to www.usairways.com/promotions/specials/diamond_deals.htm to try.