By Samantha Bomkamp, AP Airlines Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Smell the tailgate party — it's college football season. But if you're flying in for a game, you might be headed for a headache. Cutbacks at major airlines have made flight choices more difficult this fall, especially to smaller college towns. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip:
Here's the rundown if you haven't flown in a while: Planes are fuller and there are fewer flights because of schedule cutbacks across the industry. Fares have gone up, particularly to smaller towns that are often dominated by a single major airline. Airlines have also become more dependent upon fees and surcharges, which means there are plenty more to look out for.
But there's good news, too. Unless you're flying to a game around Thanksgiving, peak day travel surcharges are virtually nonexistent this year. Also, fall fare sales are abundant but you have to know where to look. Expedia and Orbitz will give you a range of options to compare, but don't rule out sites like Travelzoo, which point out the best sales. Fans take note: deals include one from American Airlines, with flights starting at $59 each way on more than 100 routes, and a nationwide fare sales from AirTran with fares starting at $54.
On the offense
It's important to sign up for fare alerts on sites like Travelzoo or Kayak to keep on top of the latest deals if you want to make it to the big game. Airlines have shifted toward last-minute sales aimed at drumming up attention on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and getting passengers to book fast. The sales, often only two or three days long, don't leave you much time to decide whether the fare is a good one. That's where research comes in handy. If you know a basic range of fare prices you can feel more confident to book a low price or let a higher one go.
Another important tip to remember for college football fans? Be sure to include several different airports in your search. If you're a fan of the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, for instance, include flights to Atlanta as well as Birmingham. A few hours in a rental car might be worth a drop in price — especially if you were planning to rent a car once you reached campus in Tuscaloosa. Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes, ranked second in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, will have less trouble finding cheap flights. Columbus, Ohio is one of the largest cities home to a top-ranked college football team, along with Fort Worth, home to No. 5 Texas Christian University.
University of Florida die-hards can look forward to more choices this year. American Airlines is adding service to Gainesville, Fla. on Oct. 1.