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Here’s what you should know when shopping for airfares this spring

Thomas Cook Airlines

Thomas Cook Airlines showed a $610 round-trip fare from LAX to Manchester, about 200 miles northwest of London, for a May trip.

(Philippe Huguen / AFP/Getty Images)

Airfares have an almost ethereal quality. Here today, gone in 60 seconds, thanks to the black art of yield management. (If lots of people want it, we’re going to make them pay more for it.) How can mere mortals afford to fly to where our dreams direct us? Take heart. There is good news from the fare front, as evidenced by some of the results below. You may not find the fares when you search for them, flitting about as they do, so consider these as guidelines. But generally, the news for those of us who are not part of the 1% is good. Here’s what you can expect in the coming months:

You’ll pay less. No, really.

In early 2015 fliers expected fares to drop along with fuel prices. That took a good, long while to happen even as the price of gas was dipping, thanks to fuel that airlines bought when it was expensive and then had to use until the supply ran out. But this year, the story has changed.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Festival of Books: In the April 3 Travel section, an info box with an article about bargain airfares said the More For Your Money: Finding Travel Bargains panel discussion would be Saturday. It is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Travel stage on the USC campus. —

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“There is good news for travelers from Los Angeles,” said Warren Chang, vice president for Fly.com, an airfare search site. “Airfares for summer travel are lower this year compared to last year. For both domestic and international travel, our users are finding the best summer fares to be on average 11% lower than last year.”

That’s partly the result of more choices, Chang said, thanks to profits probably built on every flier’s back. But for us more choices usually mean …

Lower fares. Once airlines started becoming profitable again, they were freer to add new routes or restore destinations they had dropped. More choice usually means better fares.

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For instance, two years ago I needed to fly to Cleveland. My ticket, booked two months before the May trip, cost $487. Last week I found an American Airlines round trip for $348.

But I also found a $228 fare on low-cost Frontier, which recently added Cleveland, Chang said. Which brings me to something that might seem like a softening of attitude …

It might be time to start applauding and stop hating low-cost carriers. I still hear complaints from readers who wish low-fare carriers would quit nickel-and-diming passengers. That may be partly why Spirit and Frontier were recently named the first and second most-despised carriers in the world, according to Fortune magazine. (It’s not as though legacy carriers are our BFFs; American was No. 3 on that list.)

You may loathe the carriers known for the cheap seats (add Allegiant to that mix in the U.S.), but they have also put pressure on legacy carriers to keep airfares competitive. In fact, Delta has a no-frills fare, and American and United also will add a bare fare that’s different from their regular fares (read: more restrictions and charges for, say, baggage).

If it really is all about price, being a budget traveler means you might end up flying to …

A destination you never dreamed of. When we think of flying to Costa Rica, we think San José. When we think of England, we often think of London.

It may be time to rethink.

If you’re going to Costa Rica, Southwest will begin flying this month from LAX to Liberia — not the West African country but the city in northwestern Costa Rica that is a jumping-off point for national parks and Pacific beaches.

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The best nonstop fare I found for a hypothetical trip April 13-20 on Southwest from LAX to Liberia was $322. To San José? $427, using a combination of Delta and Alaska routes.

Ditto on a trip to England. You might think about setting aside London. Thomas Cook Airlines showed me a $610 round-trip fare from LAX to Manchester, about 200 miles northwest of London, for a May trip. Once-gritty Manchester has reinvented itself as a center of arts, crafts and creativity. And, of course, it still has spectacular soccer.

Best fare I found to London on a legacy carrier was $883 round trip. But upstart Norwegian showed me a $761 fare.

We know our readers love Europe, but it may be time to think outside the Continent and consider …

Embracing Asia, if you want to save big. We are not suggesting that recent terror attacks should cool your ardor for London, Paris or Rome. You may even find more moderate fares this spring, thanks to new routes by Norwegian (adding Paris) and Emirates (adding Milan, Italy).

But fares to Asia are amazingly low. Chang said Fly.com research found fares dropping from LAX to Asia by 17% from 2015.

Chang thinks the emergence of Asian middle-class travelers and a sluggish economy may be behind fares like these that I stumbled across last week when researching a May 4-11 trip: $640 LAX to Beijing (China Southern), $690 to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (China Southern), and $598 to Bangkok, Thailand (Air China).

You can make yourself crazy trying to find the lowest fare or figuring out when to book it.

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“Booking airfare is still a magical mystery tour,” said Chang, which made me laugh because this is what his business is all about. And — surprise — he says …

A booking sweet spot may be a myth. We’ve all heard the “rules” about booking: Book 45 days ahead of time. No, wait, three weeks. No, three months is better. Definitely not three hours.

Chang doesn’t believe there’s a right time.

I agree. My rule of thumb is to be familiar enough with airfares (look at them from time to time) and know when you’ve found a good one. Then book it.

You may be able to lock in a fare. United offers such an option; you might also check out OptionsAway.com, which suggested a June 9-11 round-trip fare to Seattle from LAX of $186.20 on Alaska. That’s about $40 less than I’ve seen on regular checks of the fare. If I bought that today and paid $9, I would have a two-day hold at the price (with no obligation to buy the ticket).

If I buy the ticket and the price goes up, I don’t pay the increase. If it goes down, I get the difference — and I protect my reputation as the diva of saving a dollar.

That’s worth it at twice the price.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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L.A. Times Festival of Books

Warren Chang of Fly.com and Jon Eichelberger of Trivago hotel search sites will tell you how to save money on fares and accommodations whenever you travel. They’ll be on a panel moderated by Jen Leo, who writes the Travel section’s Web Buzz column, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Travel stage on the USC campus.


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