Cutting down on the cost of summer travel

An Unidentified Man Relaxes On A Beach.

JEREMY HOBSON: Well the fourth of July is less than two weeks away. And AAA said this morning that holiday travel will be down 2.5 percent this year because of -- you guessed it -- high gas prices. About 3 million Americans are expected to take to the skies though. But if you've tried to buy an airline ticket recently -- even on a discount carrier like Southwest or JetBlue -- you know it's not as easy as it used to be to find the really great deals.

For more on this, let's bring in L.A. Times Consumer Columnist David Lazarus. Good morning.

DAVID LAZARUS: Good morning.

HOBSON: Well, David, is cheap air travel a thing of the past?

LAZARUS: Well, it's looking that way, and in part because the airlines have figured out more and more ways to reach into your pocket through excess fees, but also because higher fuel costs. It just keeps going up and that in turn forces the airlines to continually raise their ticket prices almost on a weekly, if not monthly, basis.

HOBSON: And it doesn't look like fuel costs are going to come way down any time soon, so is there any cheap way for people to get away if they need to?

LAZARUS: Well, your best bet at this point is to prowl around online. And it used to be you could look at the various online travel agencies like Expedia, and that's kind of changing a bit. A lot of airlines want to take a lesson from Southwest -- which likes to keep all its ticketing in house -- and not play along with those travel agencies. And so more and more if you want to find last minute seats at a bargain price -- not that there's a lot because they're flying fewer flights these days -- but if they are to be found, often you'll find them at the airline's own websites. So what you might want to do is find an airline that you like, that you want to be monogamous with, and then look around their website and learn how you can get in there real quick at the last minute and see if there are any seats available.

HOBSON: But for those people who can't find something like that, and end up having to spend more time at home and not being able to get away to the beach or whatever, is there a bigger economic effect because of less vacation?

LAZARUS: Well yeah, there is. The Commerce Department estimates that tourism accounts for about $1.3 trillion in economic output in the U.S., supports about 8.2 million U.S. jobs. So it's a big deal. When American's stay home, a lot of people feel it. On the other hand, there are ways to do this with a budget in mind. For example, you don't have to stay in a hotel. More and more people are doing home swaps as a way to travel, not just domestically, but also internationally. You can go to all sorts of websites like HomeExchange.com that'll teach you how to do that. So I think there are ways to cut corners and still fulfill your wanderlusts.

HOBSON: Are you swapping your home this summer David?

LAZARUS: Not a chance. I don't want strangers in my house.

HOBSON: OK. L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus. Thanks so much.

LAZARUS: Thank you.

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