Holiday Bargains -- Not

Planning to fly during the holiday season but haven't bought your tickets? Good luck.

Holiday airfares, always higher than normal, are even worse this year: 15 percent higher than during last year's holidays, according to a study by Sabre Airline Solution, a travel company whose holdings include Travelocity.com.

Moreover, the lowest-price tickets were snapped up this summer, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger advocacy group, explaining that travelers this year upended the post-9/11 trend for booking close to travel dates.

Used to be you could often snag a bargain by flying on the day of the holiday or a day before the crowds descended. That trick isn't working in most markets this year. "You have to be even more flexible to get out of the peak travel windows" over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Amy Ziff, an advice columnist at Travelocity.com. Fares this year aren't dropping until several days before and after Thanksgiving. Demand, and thus prices, are high for the days just before Christmas and all the way through New Year's Day.

Getting a very early start could help, said Terry Tripler, an airline analyst with Cheapseats.com. He tested out some sample dates and found, for example, that American's nonstop flight from Washington to Miami would set you back $842 round trip if you bought now, for Dec. 22, returning Jan. 1. Push the dates back one day, and the fare available at press time dropped to $330.


BWI for Less

CoGo, never one to pass up a bargain, was intrigued by a passing shuttle at BWI that advertised a new lot called Econopark Express, with daily parking rates of $5.75.

Preflight, another private airport lot, wowed us a few years back with rates that easily trumped the competition, but its fees have since jumped to $9.50 a day -- $7.75 with a Web coupon -- compared with the $8 fee at BWI's long-term lots.

Last weekend we tried out Econopark, open since June, and were duly impressed. It's located next to the BWI employee lots, not far from both Preflight and the BWI car rental facility. Like Preflight, it offers at-your-car pickup and a frequent-parking plan. Nice touches include numbered parking spots and free bottled water. Shuttle drivers wait until you start your car in case your battery died while you were away.

Shuttle time from Econopark to BWI was only a few minutes longer than from Preflight, though CoGo got a bit lost trying to find the lot. Won't make that mistake again.

Regular rates at Econopark Express are $6.75, but a Web coupon brings the fee down to $5.75. Details: www.econoparkexpress.com.


Will I Fly, Cont'd

What about me? cried those with Independence Air tickets for flights in January and beyond, after CoGo reported last week that experts were optimistic that the bankrupt carrier might make it through the holidays.

What about the law requiring other carriers to accommodate ticket holders on bankrupt carriers, on a space-available basis? Sorry, that law expired yesterday. What about the law that allows you to dispute the change on your credit card if a good or service isn't delivered? That won't work in most cases, because you have to challenge the charge within 60 days of billing.

Your only hope is that someone will buy the airline. CoGo wouldn't bet the ranch on that.


Two on Blue

JetBlue is offering reduced companion tickets. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.

Reporting: John Deiner, Cindy Loose.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.