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Airfares have been inching up, month by month, in the last year. Still, it's possible to find a reasonable airfare into and out of New York City, one of the busiest gateways in the nation. Your strategy for getting that airfare should include the following steps:

Look at the low-fare carriers: Airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest, USA3000, and AirTran will sometimes have better fares than the larger airlines, but they may not be searched if you go to a site such as Expedia. So use a search tool such as Sidestep.com, Kayak.com, Momondo or Mobissimo.com, which search airline sites directly, adding no service charges and often finding fares that the larger travel sites miss. The only airline these sites don't search is Southwest, which doesn't allow its fares to be searched by any outside entity. If you don't mind flying into Islip Airport (about 1½ hr. from the city), be sure to take a gander at the Southwest site (www.southwest.com) before booking. If you're flying from Europe into the United States, take a look at the fares from British Airways, American, Continental, Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic, Eurofly, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Martinair, and Aer Lingus, as these carriers tend to have the lowest rates for international travel. I've always found that Mobissimo.com and CheapFlights.uk.com are best for searching fares that don't originate in the U.S.

Fly when others don't, and take an itinerary the biz travelers don't want. Those who fly midweek and midday, and who stay over a Saturday night, generally pay far less than those who fly at more popular times.

Book at the right time. Sounds odd, but you can often save money by booking your seat at 3am. That's because unpaid-for reservations are flushed out of the system at midnight, and as airfares are based on supply and demand, prices often sink when the system becomes aware of an increase in supply. Also consider booking on a Wednesday, traditionally the day when most airfare sales come out. Be sure to monitor such sites as Frommers.com and SmarterTravel.com, which highlight fare sales.

Try booking through a consolidator: Those traveling to New York from another country may wish to use a consolidator or "bucket shop" to snag a ticket. These companies buy tickets in bulk, passing along the savings to their customers. If you reside in Europe, the best way to find one that services your area is to go to the website www.cheapflights.co.uk, which serves as a clearinghouse for bucket shops both large and small. Many will also advertise in the Sunday papers. Be careful, though: Some charge outrageous change fees, so read the fine print before you purchase your ticket. Bucket shops will not be useful for those flying within the U.S., as they are not generally able to undercut standard pricing on domestic travel.

Don't be particular about airports: Three major airports serve New York City -- LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark -- and you should fly into whichever one has the lowest fare at the time you're booking. Yes, LaGuardia has a worse on-time record than the other two, and JFK and Newark are farther from the city, but none of those reasons should trump a low fare. You might even consider flying to Islip, which is Southwest's hub. It's farther from the city -- 90 minutes, as opposed to the 45 minutes to an hour at JFK or Newark -- but if the price is right, you should go for it.

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