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The airlines announce sales so frequently, it's sometimes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some have value; others not so much. We dig deep to tell you what ones are really worth the mouse clicks and what ones aren't.

Mexico on Sale with Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/426-0333; www.alaskaairlines.com) has a Mexico sale going on for travel until December 14, with a few blackouts and other restrictions. Most of the fares are pretty good, although you should still shop around. On the LA to Mazatlan route Alaska was listing $79 one-way (and why exactly are airlines that only sell round-trip fares still listing one-way fares in their Web sales?). However, Mexicana (www.mexicana.com) has been offering that route for weeks now for $99 round-trip for travel Tuesday through Thursday ($186 round-trip all inclusive). The same dates on Alaska were $256 round-trip including all those sky-high Mexican fare taxes and surcharges. San Francisco to Cabo is listed at $89 each way, which works out to $277 round-trip when all is said and done. You have until September 8 to book and these fares are available either on Alaska's site or in the usual places such as Travelocity and Orbitz.

New Low Fares to Jamaica on Spirit

Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117; www.spiritair.com), which almost always offers real savings in its frequent Web sales, has announced new service to Montego Bay and Kingston in Jamaica. But you have only until midnight tonight to book them. Fares begin at $98 round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Montego Bay and go up to $238 round-trip for flights from Atlantic City, Detroit, and Providence to Montego Bay. Fares are easy to find at the advertised price. Travel period is November 10, 2005 through February 9, 2006. Northwest appears to be matching on some routes, but other airlines seem to not have matched this sale in any organized way. Delta, for instance, is currently charging $429 round-trip to MoBay from Atlantic City compared to Spirit's $238 round-trip.

America West's Coast-to-Coast Sale

America West (tel. 800/235-9292; www.americawest.com) -- as you may have seen in other travel deal newsletters -- is having a "Coast-to-Coast" sale. This is essentially mimicking Southwest's system-wide sale, and most of the fares are being matched by other airlines as well. Perhaps a minor difference is that America West offers some fares from Chicago O'Hare, which Southwest doesn't serve. And the other big difference is America West's rather hefty $100 change fee. Southwest doesn't have a change fee if you need to alter your travel plans (you can apply the full value of the ticket to another travel date, although you may have to pay a fare difference if the fare has gone up). It seems odd to us that some airlines are sticking to change fees so high that, with many fares so cheap to begin, essentially mean you might as well buy a new ticket. This is especially puzzling when many airlines charge considerably less than $100. JetBlue, for example, charges just $20 if a ticket is changed online.

A Word About Flexible Date Searches

Not that America West doesn't occasionally have fares that are much lower than the competition. In fact, lately we have stumbled across some very good unadvertised fares to/from Atlanta and to/from Denver that other airlines have not been matching. The only issue is that seats are hard to find, which is why you need to do a flexible date search. AmericaWest's own site has a flexible search function, although we find it a bit hard to use. Readers of this column have probably already figured out that we're big fans of Travelocity's flexible date search function. And no, it's not because they're a sponsor (we'd never be that disingenuous) -- it's because only Travelocity searches both international and domestic fares out to about 330 days in the future, whereas Orbitz only goes out to 30 days, and Expedia only covers fares between major US cities. But one problem we've noticed with Travelocity is that it does not include America West fares in its flexible searches. One site that does include AmWest's fares in a 330-day flexible search is CheapAir (www.cheapair.com), which, however, only covers domestic fares and levies a $9.95 per ticket service charge compared to Travelocity's $5. So if you're flexible, and you're flying on a route served by America West, you might want to check out CheapAir.

Orlando and San Francisco for a Song on Song

Remember when this route, which isn't served by Southwest Airlines, was expensive? Well, no longer. Song (tel. 800/359-7664; www.flysong.com) is offering an introductory fare between Orlando and San Francisco for $119 one-way (round-trip purchase not required). This fare is being matched by American, Northwest and United, but Delta's Song is the only one that doesn't require a round-trip purchase. Travel November 4 through January 30. Blackouts on November 23 & 27; December 21-24, & 29 & 30, 2005; and January 1-2 and 14-16, 2006. Tickets must be purchased by September 2.

JAL Business Class Fares: Not So Great

Japan Airlines (tel. 800/525-3663; www.japanair.com) is offering "Business Saver Fares" supposedly saving up to 46 percent for departures through September 30. For weekday departures on the LA to Tokyo route, for example, they list $4,062 round-trip; fares go up to $5,052 round-trip for weekends. So we checked, at random, an itinerary departing September 6 and returning September 13. Oddly (and something we didn't realize) JAL's online search engine is powered by Travelocity, which returned a total fare of $6,538 round-trip (nowhere near the advertised price). However, using Travelocity.com we found nonstop fares on the same dates of $4,110 (Korean Air) and $4,135 (Delta and Northwest). The JAL fare didn't even show up, probably because it was "off the charts". An aberration? Maybe. So just for fun, we tried September 14 outbound, September 21 inbound. Same $6,538 fare on JAL; but we found a $2,568 round-trip business class fare on Air China (yes, it was via Beijing, but for $4,000 we'll change planes, thanks very much). So it should be pretty clear where we're going with this: don't bother with this sale unless you absolutely must fly JAL.

Late Summer Lufthansa Deals to Europe

Lufthansa (tel. 800/645-3880; www.lufthansa-usa.com) and United, for some reason known only to themselves, are "attacking" US Airways on flights from USAir's Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Washington strongholds to USAir's European destinations. We searched Charlotte to Barcelona using Travelocity, for example, in early September and found $668 all-inclusive on Lufthansa compared to $976 on USAir and $1,414 on Delta. On the Washington Dulles to Manchester UK route for early September we found the lowest fare on the route to be Lufthansa's $660 round-trip including all (the base fare was $397 round-trip . . . what gives with those sky high surcharges and taxes on Lufthansa?); but British Midland had a nonstop for just $7 more, and the Lufthansa flight changes in Frankfurt. That being said, for late summer travel these Lufthansa deals are pretty good and you might be able to find yourself a (relative) bargain. What's odd about this sale, however, is that the Web site specifies a 50 day advance purchase with a departure by October 31 and a maximum stay of 30 days. We were able to find comparable fares, however, with just a 7 day advance purchase.

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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