Airfares, cruise costs mimic oil's rise

The cost of getting to Grandma's house is higher than ever.

Record oil prices that have punished drivers at the pumps have also pushed airline ticket prices to their highest level in three years.

Business fares as of Nov. 5 were up 9 percent year-over-year, and leisure fares were up 10 percent, said Bob Harrell of travel and aviation consulting firm Harrell Associates in New York.

Round-trip fares at Raleigh-Durham International Airport rose an average of $55 between Labor Day and Nov. 5, according to a sample of nearly 1,200 flights by FareCompare.com, which tracks prices. The company sampled 13 carriers' walk-up and advance-purchase tickets from RDU to 50 cities, and found that the majority of prices increased. Low-fare carriers JetBlue and AirTran were included in the survey; Southwest wasn't.

Tickets bought before Labor Day were at least $50 less expensive than current prices, said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare. "If you're traveling around Christmas, you can expect to pay a 100 to 200 percent premium over the cheapest days," he said.

American Airlines sparked a round of airfare increases last week when it raised domestic round-trip prices by $20. Since Labor Day, there have been eight fare increases, Seaney said.

"The airlines spent the last three years getting their balance sheets out of the doldrums, and the last thing they want to do is have the momentum they gained be derailed by fuel prices," Seaney said. "Everybody is taking these fuel prices across the board, and RDU is not any different."

Nicki Bass, co-owner of Travel in Style in Raleigh, said "almost everywhere is going up." Round-trip tickets from RDU to such Florida destinations as Orlando and Fort Lauderdale that cost $180 this summer are now about $220.

Cruise lines also are increasing their prices.

On Monday, Carnival Cruise Lines notified travel agencies that passengers for Caribbean cruises will see a $50 to $70 fuel surcharge, Bass said. "Nothing is going to get better until gas prices go down -- if they ever do."

GETTING A BETTER DEAL

Airfare deals still exist. The key is to be flexible with your travel dates.

A recent check of prices showed, for example, that a round trip from RDU to Orlando on Delta costs $812 if you leave Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, and return the following Sunday, both considered peak travel days. But fly that route on Thanksgiving Day and return the following Tuesday, and you'll pay $218.

The same holds true at Christmas. A round-trip coach fare on American to LaGuardia that leaves Saturday, Dec. 22, and returns Sunday, Dec. 30, costs $248. The flight that leaves Friday, Dec. 19, and returns Wednesday, Dec. 26, costs $198.


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