DALLAS -- Many airline passengers are reporting sticker shock when making their summer travel plans.
Airlines have raised fares repeatedly this year, citing higher jet fuel costs. But travel agents say the main reason airlines are raising prices is that they can.
With the booming economy putting more money in people's pockets, more people want to go places for vacation.
Despite the higher prices, planes are more crowded. Domestic passenger traffic rose 7.7 percent over last May, the trade group said. The occupancy of an average jetliner was 73.6 percent in May, up from 69.7 percent a year ago.
While average fares for business and leisure travelers are rising, there are still bargains out there. It's not unusual for airlines to raise base fares, then engage in price wars on some highly competitive routes. Internet sales, ''unpublished'' rates and corporate rates also provide discounts.
Aviation consultant Bob Harrell, who tracks the lowest-priced leisure fares on 20 major routes, said widespread fare sales are actually slightly more common this year than a year ago.
In May, the advertised price of those cheapest seats was 11 percent lower than a year ago.
The sometimes conflicting numbers mean that vacationers should hunt for bargains but be patient and willing to change dates or even destinations, travel agents say.
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