If you're flying this summer, you'll probably pay more than you did last year. And the price for a ticket to ride will likely keep rising for months to come.
Summer fares for trips in the USA are up 3 percent on average over last year and 18 percent compared with 2010, according to booking site Travelocity.
The increase is steeper for international trips, with the average ticket costing 20 percent more than it did two years ago.
Airlines will likely push prices as high as they can, fare watchers say. "I would expect about a hike attempt a month, with about half being successful," says Rick Seaney of Farecompare.com, which tracks ticket prices.
Airlines already have tried to boost fares six times this year, and three have succeeded, Seaney says. The next attempt likely will come before Memorial Day, the start of the prime summer travel season.
Airlines are raising fares to try to eke out a profit as fuel prices soar. United Continental said Thursday that it lost $448 million in the first quarter as its fuel bill rose almost 21 percent, or $557 million. On Wednesday, Delta posted an adjusted loss of $39 million for the quarter.
"The rising cost of fuel has had a major impact on our operation and is a significant factor in pricing," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter says.
To ensure they're flying full planes, airlines have pared flights to some destinations. And a series of mergers — Delta and Northwest, United and Continental, Southwest and AirTran — have winnowed flying choices for passengers, enabling megasize airlines to charge more.
This summer's average round-trip fare inside the USA is $383, vs. $324 two years ago, Travelocity calculates.
Deals remain for some popular vacation spots such as Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, says Courtney Scott, Travelocity's senior editor. "If you find a fare below $383, book it," she says. "That's the price to beat for this summer."
Airlines will push fares, but not to where they drive away passengers, Seaney says. "After so many hikes the past 16 months, we are likely near the tipping point of consumers' willingness to continue booking at current prices," he says.