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Holiday Travelers Getting Nice Surprise

Want to fly home for the holidays, but didn't book early and now are scared off by last-minute, high-priced fares?

Several major airlines - including American, Delta, United and AirTran - are offering a little gift. They're posting fares for flights now through Christmas and New Year's that travelers would usually only get by buying tickets in advance.

The fares, at prices travelers usually get by booking 10, 14 or 21 days ahead, are good for flights through Jan. 4. Exceptions: heavy travel days of Dec. 27, Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.

Tom Parsons, CEO of BestFares.com, who closely tracks fares and who spotted the deals Wednesday, says travelers could save a significant amount by not having to pay last-minute prices.

A standard round trip from Dallas to New York City, for example, would cost $1,858 if purchased close to the travel date. That trip now could be gotten without an advance purchase for as low as $388, Parsons says.

"A couple weeks ago, some of these fares had a 10-, 21-day advance purchase on them," he says. "Some people have given up (traveling) on the holidays. Maybe now they'll come back and take another shot at it."

The offerings come just weeks after holiday travelers were warned to book early because airlines have pared the number of seats available.

George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, says the fares could be a sign that the airlines didn't get the passenger traffic they were expecting this holiday season.

"I think we're going to find that the number of people traveling for the holidays is definitely going to go down from last year, and last year wasn't a good year," he says. The sales "are going to fill in some of those middle seats."

Robin Urbanski, a United Airlines spokeswoman, says the deals - what she calls "our seasonal joy sale" - aren't uncommon for this time of year. They result, she says, from fewer people traveling for business as the holidays near, and that leaves open some seats.

"As we have fewer business travelers, this sale helps leisure travelers looking for last-minute deals," she says.

Though airfares have generally been lower this year than they were in 2008, they began to rise in recent weeks in anticipation of the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. Airlines also tacked on surcharges of $20 each way for flying on peak travel days.

This latest break on last-minute travel during the holidays is still pricier than the deals being offered in January and February, after the holiday rush.

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