Charles McCool, the Virginia-based author of Winning the Airfare Game (Hawk Ridge Press, $14), offers these suggestions for nabbing a low airfare:
Be flexible -- Using alternate airports, carriers and travel dates expands your options.
Buy early -- Most discounted fares must be bought well in advance, two to three weeks early for the better fares. The best fares, however, are available during fare wars (which you can recognize by regularly checking prices and watching for reductions). It's worth buying your ticket months in advance if you can get it during one of these fare wars.
Buy late -- Last-minute deals may be available. Though this isn't something you should plan for, low fares may be an incentive for spur-of-the-moment travel.
Surf for fares -- Compare booking site fares with those on the airlines' individual sites, which may have deals listed only on their Web pages.
Use a travel agent -- They know the drill and have access to preferred fares.
Book direct -- Call airlines directly to book bereavement or compassion fares or to inquire about discounts for kids, seniors or groups. Often Web sites don't offer available markdowns.
Get more, pay less -- Package deals often offer more bang for your buck and cost little more than the airfare itself.
-- Tricia Bishop
YOU NEED A VACATION, INEXPENSIVE AND NEARBY
Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine is offering a special edition, "America on a Budget," currently on newsstands. The 286-page edition focuses on affordable domestic travel ideas, with several hundred options listed on everything from dude ranches to sports adventures.
"If you're like most Americans," writes editor Arthur Frommer in the magazine, "you need a vacation -- it's been a stressful time. And chances are that like most Americans in the months to come, you'll take that vacation in the United States."
Travel categories in "America on a Budget" include "Vacations for a Frugal Family" (which lists, among other things, family summer camps, historical trips and reunion ideas), "Slightly Naughty Vacations" (Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City getaways), and "Alternative Vacations for Mind and Body" (adult counterculture sleep-away camp, wellness retreats, writer's conferences).
The issue sells on newsstands for $7.95, or it can be ordered for $10 by calling 800-829-9149.
A place to stow the keepsakes
Ever wonder what to do with all those matchbooks, seashells, cocktail napkins and ticket stubs you've collected on vacation? Instead of sticking them in your junk drawer, check out Souvenirs de Voyage, by Louise Kollenbaum (Chronicle Books, $23). The book offers tips on collecting, journal writing and creating well-composed collages from your collectibles. It also has many blank pages for recording your thoughts, impressions and memories in the making, and glassine envelopes throughout hold all the little slips of things you pick up, preserving them until you're ready to turn them into works of art.
Good tastes at sea
The reputation of cruise cuisine has often been one of quantity over quality, but that is changing. Last month, Crystal Cruise line installed a floating version of chef Wolfgang Puck's Santa Monica-based restaurant, Chinois on Main, on its luxury ship Symphony. The Chinois is known for creative fusion of Asian and French cuisine. Selections include Szechwan pancakes stuffed with stir-fried Cantonese duck, grilled Mongolian lamb chops and Shanghai lobster in a spiced ginger-curry sauce. For a Crystal Cruises brochure, call 800-820-6663.