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Coming and Going: How airlines will handle fuel price hikes

Sunday, January 23, 2011; F02

Coming & Going
Fuel up, fees up?

CoGo likes it when some things, such as hemlines and balloons, rise. But not fuel expenses. When fuel prices go up, a scenario that experts see on the horizon, the airlines must absorb the spike, pass it on to passengers or find a creative third option.

"I don't see [fares] going up that much more," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "I think [the airlines] are going to go for new fees."

With existing fees for baggage, pets, preselected seats, locked-in reservations, phone bookings and more, what's left for carriers to squeeze another nickel out of?

Hobica says he can see more airlines adopting American's locked-in fares, which charge travelers a fee to secure a price for a set amount of time. Or they might apply the 10 percent charge on lap children, levied on international flights, to domestic ones. Another option: Copy the foreign carriers and charge a fee on charge card payments or a per-pound fee on checked bags.

"There's a lot of room for new fees," Hobica says. "It's easier to nab passengers for fees after they've booked the flight, because now they're stuck."

Invasion of the buses

Travelers are getting back on the bus - and staying on it.

The evidence: the never-ending caravan plying America's highways.

The proof: a recent study of intercity bus service by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago.

In 2010, according to the report, intercity bus service in the United States reached its highest level in years and remained "the country's fastest-growing mode of transportation for the third year in a row."

Other major findings:

- The rate of growth in 2010 exceeded that of rail and air.

- Intercity bus operations expanded by 6 percent

- Curbside operators, such as Bolt and Megabus, increased their departures by almost 24 percent and now account for more than 400 daily operations.

- Bus services offset fuel consumption by about 11 million gallons annually and carbon emissions by an estimated 249 million pounds, equal to eliminating 23,818 vehicles from the road.

Cruising for a cruise

Imagine 15 million cruisers - okay, not on the same boat but sailing over the past year.

That's just one of the head-slapping findings of a recent study by the Cruise Lines International Association.

The group also forecasts a 6.6 percent rise in passengers this year, to 16 million, with 73 percent hailing from North America. In addition, the seas will become even more crowded, with 22 ships on order through 2012, more than half of them slated for this year.

With a million more passengers, the industry probably will have enough warm bodies to fill those 51,306 additional beds.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs, Nancy Trejos.

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