STAND YOUR GROUND: Lowest Airfares

Vicki Rush, CEO of A&I Travel in East Memphis (, confirms what already causes every air traveler's head to pound.

"Airlines are decreasing service," she says. "They're putting in smaller planes who are going to have fewer seats."

Fewer seats -- mean higher fares.

To find the lowest possible fares, Rush recommends these tips:

* BOOK EARLY.  14 to 21 days out from your trip used to be the benchmark for booking low fares.  Not anymore, says Rush.  She says you should start shopping fares and book as early as six months before your trip.

* ESTABLISH THE "STANDARD AIRFARE" WITH A SATURDAY NIGHT STAY.  Rush says the airlines will almost always offer a lower fare if you agree to stay over a Saturday night.  Use that rule to establish what the going rate is for where you're going.

"If I'm going to Phoenix, and I see that a Saturday night stay is $700...yikes!...well, that's the standard airfare," Rush says.  "I want to start watching for fares that are below $700."

To do that ....

* SIGN UP FOR E-MAIL ALERTS.  Not only on the airline's web site, but also on one or more of the third-party travel sites., for example, offers its 'FareWatcher Plus' subscription service.  It automatically notifies subscribers when their trips' fares change.

"So you need to be ready to react if and when that should happen," says Rush.  "You should be able to go back and say, 'Hey, can I buy, can I get the ticket reissued for the lower amount of money?' Some airlines don't let you do it. US Air doesn't. Most airlines do."

* DOUBLE CONNECTIONS.  Instead of that direct flight from Memphis to New York's LaGuardia Airport, see what the fare would be if you tried Memphis-Orlando-Atlanta-LaGuardia.  You could knock off hundreds of dollars, but it's more inconvenient.

* ALTERNATIVE AIRPORTS.  Most people who fly to Chicago book through O'Hare International Airport, the second busiest airport next to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Instead, try booking your trip through Chicago's Midway Airport.

"Midway is a city airport, and it's a really good example. It's closer to the city itself," says Rush.  "So you might find a low-cost carrier - AirTran, Southwest - that go to Midway but that don't go to O'Hare."

* SATURDAY NIGHT STAY EXCEPTION:  HOLIDAY WEEKS.  Rush says if your booking a trip for a holiday week, consider coming back home BEFORE Saturday of that week or extending your stay through the following week.  The more flexible your holiday week schedule is, the more likely you will score a lower airfare.