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Holiday travel? Expensive, crowded

Airline passengers can expect ticket prices to be 7 percent to 18 percent higher this holiday season than last year, as an economic recovery -- however modest -- spurs growing demand for air travel.

Travelers can also look forward to more crowded flights: The airlines have added few new planes or routes in the past several years.

"I expect prices to be quite high compared to the last couple years, as demand is strong and supply is weak," said Rick Seaney, chief executive of the travel website FareCompare.

Already, airlines are packing more passengers per plane, with the nation's top carriers recording 86.3 percent of all seats filled in June -- the highest rate in 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

About 41 million Americans are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, making it one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

Passengers took advantage of bargains last year, when airlines dropped prices to the lowest levels in decades to entice recession-battered travelers back into the air. But now, travel experts say, demand has begun to increase, partly a result of pent-up demand and growing optimism about the economy.

Some experts held out hope that there may still be bargains ahead. If travelers balk at the higher prices, they suggested, the airlines may offer last-minute discounts to fill empty seats.

George Hobica, founder of the travel website AirfareWatchdog, said one tip for avoiding higher rates is to book a flight during off-peak hours, such as early in the morning.

"People should not take the first offer they see," he said. "Check the prices several times a day and consider taking alternate airports."

-- McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

By Michael Bolden  | October 26, 2010; 4:14 PM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Airports, Aviation  
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