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S.L. TRAVEL AGENTS SCURRY FOR THE LATEST ON AIRFARES

Several of the nation's major airlines have delayed proposed increases in airfares planned for this weekend.

But local travel agents say the market is so volatile, they're scurrying to keep abreast of all the changes.On Thursday, the message was this: If you wanted to fly someplace this fall, better buy your plane ticket today because airfares would be taking off Saturday and Sunday.

But if you planned a Thanksgiving or Christmas excursion, you might want to chance it and see if the airlines will launch another airfare war for the holidays.

Now the story's different.

Some airlines announced they are delaying price increases, but they are all over the map when it comes to when and how much. Some plan to raise prices by Sunday, others by Wednesday, others by Friday.

So what's a traveler to do?

Local travel agents are gazing into cloudy crystal balls as they try to arrange plans for clients amid constantly changing ticket prices.

On Thursday, agents expected airfares would jump anywhere between $10 and $40 this weekend.

"I'd heard it would go up that much, but we never know until it really happens," said Melissa Iba, travel agent for IBA Travel Inc. of Salt Lake City.

Iba speculated that airlines need cash after offering deep discounts all summer.

"I would say they need the money because they've lowered fares so low it's impossible to make any money, even though their flights seem to be full," Iba said.

"It has been a busy summer. In the month of June, with the fare wars going on, we thought we wouldn't have any more business through the rest of the summer, but it has just continued to grow," Iba said.

Iba suggested fliers buy soon if they plan a fall trip. "That protects the fare, whether it goes up or down," she said.

If fares go up any more, a ticket purchased now is locked in at its current price. If, by some chance, fares go down, it's not uncommon for travel agencies to issue new tickets at the lower price.

Linda Crandall, a travel consultant for Morris Travel of Salt Lake City, agreed that the situation could change any day.

"There's no telling what they're going to do. It's been the craziest year I've seen in 20 years of being a travel agent."

Crandall said people who plan Thanksgiving and Christmas trips might wait a bit before booking their flights. "Our experience in the past has been that to generate more business holiday travel, the airlines will put on some specials - but that's not a guarantee," Crandall said.

Her advice: Watch the newspapers for airline ads and then get in touch with a travel agent.