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Will Open Skies Really Mean Lower Fares?

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Clear Skies SunsetOn March 30, the open-skies agreement will become active, which likely will reduce airfares for travelers, says The New York Times. But will it?

This agreement will allow United States- and Europe-based airlines to fly across the Atlantic between any two airports in each region.

Prior to the pact, separate agreements governed trans-Atlantic flights between the U.S. and individual European nations, which limited which airlines could serve certain airports.

Next week, these restrictions will be nullified, and many carriers will then be granted trans-Atlantic access.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, plans to start a new airline that will operate from secondary European markets, such as Liverpool or Birmingham, to American cities, such as Baltimore or Providence, R.I.—for as low as 10 euros, or about $16. Obviously, transatlantic fares this low would revolutionize travel across the pond.

The San Jose Mercury News, however, offers a different take on the matter. Although the “open-skies, lower fares” chant seems to carry on, the reality is that there will be more flights and mixed fares. Passengers may be able to score a few decent fares in April or May, but current summer fares are more than $1,200 roundtrip from the Bay Area’s three airports to London, and even more than $1,400 to Paris or Rome.

If your wallet’s already cringing at this news, consider traveling before June. And, if history is any indicator, carriers will be offering sales on summer fares soon. “If you’re smart, you’ll find bargains,” said Tom Parsons, chief executive of BestFares.com.

Unfortunately, more choices does not always cause lower prices, but make sure to watch out for offerings from Continental, Delta and Northwest; these carriers will offer service to Heathrow for the first time.

Since competition is speeding up at Heathrow, fly to London first. According to the Airline Planning Group and eSkyGuide, airlines will fly 21 percent more seats in April between the United States and Heathrow than April of last year.

Once you get to London, you may save by flying on low-cost local carriers. And even if you don’t choose a low-cost carrier, the heavy competition in the London air travel market should help keep fares from rising too much.

Links: The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News

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