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Hip Tips: 7 Secrets for Savvy Summer Airfare Shopping

Photo: Associated Press

Summer is around the corner and it’s time to book that summer trip. If you haven’t started your summer vacation planning yet, expect to pay more for airfare the summer. According to Bing Travel’s Summer Forecast, and data pulled last week, domestic summer airfare is up 24% ($321 in 2010 v $258 in 2009) and airfare to Europe is up 36% ($1276 in 2010 v $938 in 2009). Not sure where to start shopping for airfare for your family? Here are 7 secrets from top experts to help you be a savvy airfare shopper this season:
1. Shop around:  It pays to peruse a few sites to get a sense of how much it costs to travel to your destination. I typically start with a travel search engine, then go directly to the airline website to compare prices and book. Some of our favorite travel search sites: Kayak.com, Bing.com, Fly.com, online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz, and discounters such as Hotwire and Priceline. I also like CheapOAir for first class fares.

2. Know when to buy: Scoring a good deal on airfare is all about timing and some smart sleuthing. I worked for Farecast and Bing for a number of years, and am still a big fan. Use Bing Travel’s Price predictor to help you decide when to buy. Bing Travel’s price predictor tells you whether fares are rising or dropping and whether you should buy now or wait. They also have some nifty flexible tools that help you decide when and where to travel.

3. Stay Flexible: Map out your family’s Plan A and Plan B. Search availability calenders and keep your options open. If you are planning a late-August trip, Bing Travel wants you to know that airlines traditionally launch big end-of-summer sales in early to mid-July so it could pay off to wait to book that end of summer trip.

4. Use Twitter and Facebook: Social media tools are a great way to stay on top of fast moving fares. In addition to following your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook, you should also add airfare experts such as @rickseaney,  @airfarewatchdog and@fareologist to your twitter stream. Rick Seaney at FareCompare has some useful tips for using social media tools to track airfare deals in: Five Ways to Help Travelers Find Cheap Flight Deals on Twitter and Facebook
5. Calculate Fees Carefully: Make each bag count. Pack light and understand how the fees add up before you go.  Farecompare outlines domestic airline fees here.

6. Sign up for Fare Alerts: According to airfare expert George Hobica at Airfarewatchdog.com, signing up for airfare alerts is a must do for catching elusive fare deals:  “Is there a magic day to buy? A lot of sales pop up on Monday night and Tuesday, but the fare you’re looking for could go down at any moment, so if you just search once a week on Tuesday, you’re missing out.”  Fares can change frequently and email alerts can help you stay on top of soaring fares, or catch a price drop.

7.  Reward yourself with Miles. Wendy Perrin who pens the The Perrin Post at CondeNast Traveler has a wealth of information on How to Maximize Your Miles (April 2010 issue). One piece of sage advice from this extremely helpful article is this:  “Here’s the main takeaway: When you don’t see any mileage-award-seat availability through the award-booking tool on your airline’s web site, call the airline’s award desk and speak to a human being. Sometimes they can pull rabbits out of hats.” This strategy worked great for me on a recent trip to Palm Springs.

The good news in all of this? Summer hotel rates are down six percent over last summer, so  while you may pay a bit more for airfare, chances are you will be able to make up some of the difference by saving on some luxe accommodations.

Have a hip tip for saving money on airfare this summer? Tell us about it in the comments.

Join our growing community of Hip Travel Mamas on Facebook who share your passion for luxury travel and follow us at @hiptravelmama on Twitter for the latest luxury family travel deals, trip ideas, luxe style, food and wine.

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Photo: Associated Press
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