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When low-fare airlines’ fares aren’t so low

Low-fare airlines have gained the reputation of always offering the lowest prices around. Recently, however, there have been some changes to several major low-fare airlines—changes that the average air traveler may not know about.

Popular U.S. carriers have raised prices more than once, while one European carrier is adding charges that may take you by surprise. Before booking your next flight, read about why you may not be able to trust your favorite low-fare carrier to offer the best prices.


For the first time since it began flying in 1999, JetBlue is in the red. The carrier lost money for 2005, and for the first quarter in 2006. These losses, along with soaring fuel costs, have caused JetBlue to raise its prices several times this year. According to a Bloomberg News report last week, JetBlue raised its highest fares by $50, from $349 to $399. In addition, the airline raised most other fares by at least $5, and has said that its average—$107 one-way—will have to rise as well. Josh Roberts,’s [% 1239676 | | Today in Travel %] blogger, says, “You’ll still see those attractive $39 one-way flights advertised all over the place, but there will be fewer seats available at those prices.”

In addition to its fare hikes, JetBlue has said that its new cost-cutting strategy is to begin serving airports with less competition so it can charge higher fares, which is a departure from its popular (and highly competitive) New York-to-Florida routes.

You may think that a $5 increase isn’t a lot, but at $10 round-trip, you may be able to find a better price on another airline.


Southwest has long been the low-fare king in the U.S. Though it hadn’t increased fares since September 2005, the airline has raised prices at least twice so far this year. It recently raised its fares, setting off a round of fare hikes among most of the major carriers. Its most expensive no-advance-purchase fares went from $299 to $309 each-way. Its advance purchase fares were raised by $2 to $4.

As with JetBlue, a $4-to-$8 higher round-trip fare isn’t going to make fares prohibitively expensive, but it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the industry when the low-fare darling hikes its prices.


Spirit has garnered a lot of attention with its occasional $18 one-day round-trip sales. Despite its jaw-droppingly low prices, Spirit raised its fares by as much as $20 each-way last week. A $40 round-trip price hike is definitely worth taking note of, and if you haven’t been comparing Spirit’s prices before booking, you should now.


Europe’s low-fare king, Ryanair, recently initiated a fee for checked baggage. The airline charges about $4.56 (£2.50) per checked bag, and more if you haven’t booked ahead (about $9, or £5).

Another European carrier, Flybe, has followed suit, but easyJet, Ryanair’s main competitor, has vowed not to charge for baggage.

These recent price hikes and new charges reinforce our constant advice: Compare fares before booking. As you shop around, remember that JetBlue’s and Southwest’s fares are not available for booking on any third-party website.

If you’re traveling within Europe, it’s still important to compare prices. Instead of only considering the popular easyJet and Ryanair, use a website like to see every airline that flies a particular route.

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