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DECISIONS, DECISIONS: HOW TO CHOOSE AN AIRLINE

I like knowing what I’m getting into. Before I eat at a restaurant, I check out Yelp for reviews. Before I head to a new destination, I devour anything I can find about it on IgoUgo. And before I fly—or often before I even choose a carrier to fly with—I browse Skytrax.

The concept of Skytrax is pretty simple: it’s like any other review site, but the subject matter is all air travel, all the time. Along with constantly updated reviews of pretty much airline you’ve ever heard of—and many, many you haven’t—there are hundreds of reviews of airports (will you make that connection in Miami? is there anything decent to eat at JFK?) and even airport lounges, for those of us lucky (or swanky) enough to be invited into them.

Summer Travel on a Budget

Today on Live at 9 in Memphis, I talked about what travelers can expect this summer and how to stay on budget amid rising fuel costs and added fees. Travelers can expect two things for sure: higher airfare and crowded planes. The high cost of fuel is one of the main factors driving up summer airfares, so to stay on budget, travelers are going to have to be smart and find other ways to save.

One way to find a great deal is to try booking at the last minute. Since last minute travel inventory is unpredictable, this option is ideal for people who know they want to get away for a long weekend, but who don’t have their hearts set on a particular destination.

News Flash: Rising Change Fees

Get ready for higher prices. Again. Yep, that’s right. If you’ve been reading here you know that baggage rules are changing and it’s going to cost you more to have checked luggage than ever before, but now in the latest spate of policy changes by the airlines in an attempt to grow revenue, United is boosting its change fee from $100 to $150.

The real question is will this become the latest in a trend of ways for all the airlines to get more revenue? This one may not seem so bad…well not until you want to change your ticket. Then you’ll cry ouch! The good news is — this is protecting your ticket fee from going up higher than it already is. ( According to my most recent Travelocity data, summer airfares are looking at least 10% higher than last year.) The bad news is, even if fuel prices come down this fee isn’t likely to.

Lets see if the other major players match. That will be the telltale sign of whether or not this fee is here to stay.

Summer Travel: Controling Costs

It seems to be the question on every travel journalist’s mind: Will people stop traveling due to high costs and an uncertain economy? Here’s the short answer: No. But we may see changes in the way people travel and may need to adjust our attitude on what constitutes a good “deal.” For me personally, it’s hard to imagine a price point that would make me stop traveling — it’s just that important to me, and I find ways to make it work. After all, I recently flew to Italy for just three days of skiing — would have loved to have stayed longer, but the Euro is killing me. So, I had a shorter-than-usual trip — but I still went. Shorter trips are just one way that people adjust their travels when they’re trying to control their vacation costs.

Yesterday on the Fox News show “Studio B with Shepard Smith,” I talked about a few other ways travelers can try to control costs this summer. You’ve all heard the advice to book early, but with service cutbacks by a few airlines, there’s going to be stiff competition for the least-expensive seats and booking far in advance is as important as ever for those of you who have your heart set on a particular destination.

Watch the video, or read on for my three other tips:

St. John beach chair photo courtesy of IgoUgo member Jose Kevo.