Will 2009 Offer Fliers Deep Deals?

Some Domestic Cities Have it Good

Sure, Southwest announced its "first ever" seat-cutback for early next year (this is an airline that typically grows by 6 percent to 8 percent a year), but the lower-cost carrier also announced new service to Minneapolis starting in March. While only one route has been set (between Minneapolis and Chicago), look for more in the latter half of 2009, which should drastically drive down prices for those in the Twin Cities.

Case in point: the cost of a ticket between Dallas and Houston is typically about $125 roundtrip for leisure travelers, while the route between Minneapolis and Chicago, just 100 miles farther, has a typical leisure fare of more than $400 roundtrip. Look for the price of this ticket, along with connecting traffic, to drop dramatically.

And San Franciscans who have had the best of it this year with ticket prices, may have it even better as Virgin America looks to expand in 2009. The most likely targets include a Midwestern city like Chicago or Dallas -- cities that will benefit big-time from the competition.

Finally, Denver saw an increase of nearly 100 daily flights from Southwest this year -- watch the city continue to reap those benefits in 2009.

Explosive Growth Down Under -- the Gulf

While U.S. aviation growth flattened during the past few years, the "final frontier" looks to be south -- south of the U.S. border, that is.

Latin America and South America have benefited from better economies and currencies pegged to the dollar during its unprecedented worldwide weakness, and these regions should continue to experience growth amid the domestic pull-back.

The international airlines in these areas have been profitable, while their northern brethren have bled red ink even as their ticket prices have bordered on the outrageous -- so look for more competition to bring these prices down in 2009.

Meanwhile, the new start-up airline, Azul, should take flight in early 2009. Azul, which will be based in Brazil, already has orders for more than 70 aircraft and it will introduce tens of thousands to the joys of air travel.

I would be remiss not to mention our friends north of the border as well. In late 2009, travel to Canada should get cheaper when the code share agreement between WestJet and Southwest kicks in. Watch for lower ticket prices to several popular Canadian destinations.

My prediction? I hate the term "cautiously optimistic" but frankly, in this case -- it applies. In 2009, yes, there will be pain but before long we will see the gain, as well.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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