I love summertime. It always reminds me of corn on the cob, burgers on the grill, homemade ice cream, and, I suppose, this is where I should mention trying to fit into last year's bathing suit.
But, mostly, I love summer vacations.
If gas prices have you down, head to the airport. Sure, the cost of jet fuel is higher and the cost of airfare reflects this: Ticket prices are up about 4 percent since the beginning of 2012, and about 17 percent since the beginning of 2011.
But skipping the flight won't always save you money. Here are four travel myths, and why they're more fiction than fact.
1. Myth: Stick close to home
Reality: This may be true if the beach is in your backyard, but distance isn't always the yardstick for the price of plane tickets. I just checked airfare for June from Los Angeles, and nonstop flights to summer vacation destinations - some, anyway - are cheaper the farther you travel. Again, prices have generally risen since last year, but the point is, you can still travel across country for less than some closer-to-home destinations.
Los Angeles - Jackson, Wyo.: about $512 round-trip
Los Angeles - Minneapolis: about $340 round-trip
Los Angeles - Boston: about $335 round-trip
Los Angeles - New York: about $299 round-trip
It's still a little early to be shopping for late June departures (see Myth #2). Still you get the idea: Nearer isn't always cheaper.
Tip: It's almost always cheaper to fly from one large hub city to another, but if you can only fly in or out of one hub city, there are still savings to be had.
2. Myth: You can't buy your plane tickets too early
Actually, you can. It happens all the time. If you're looking at July and August vacation flights now, you're shopping too soon. However, there is some debate on this matter because of the price of oil, which, as of press time, continues to climb.
One school of thought says, 'lock in prices now,' reasoning that it could get worse later. I disagree. We've been through this before, in 2008. Oil prices climbed to nearly $150 a barrel that July, but came crashing down below $50 by November. I'm not saying that'll happen again, but never say never – especially in an election year.
Besides, I think the airlines are going to have a difficult time pushing through fuel increases. There was another airfare hike attempt just two weeks ago, but it failed. Only two of the four hike attempts so far this year have been successful.
And consider that consumers will be using any money that comes from the payroll tax cut at the pump, just to get to around, instead of earmarking them for air travel. So when you factor in the airlines' need to fill every seat in order to have profitable flight, you're left with a stalemate of sorts. And that means people will fly only if the price is right, and airlines know this.
Bottom line: Shop for summer vacation about three months before departure, up until about a month before take-off. If you shop too early, you'll pay a mid-range price, and won't get the better deals the airlines begin pushing out three months out to start filling their summer seats.
3. Myth: Discount airlines are the only way to go
Reality: Do you really think that in this day and age, when anyone with a computer can instantly compare airline ticket prices, there's that big of a different between the price of airfare?
Think about it: You type in your departure and arrival cities, wait for the cheapest prices to appear and then you buy. What you do not do is go through page after page of the results, just in case the computer somehow messed up and there's a cheaper fare lurking on page 12. Uh-uh, not going to happen.
In other words, all airlines compete to get on that very first 'results page'.
There used to be a big price difference between the legacy carriers (American, Delta, United and US Airways) and the so-called discounters, but not so much anymore. The legacy carriers have come down in price even as low-cost airlines have stealthily been increasing airfares.
Here's an assessment of the airline industry from no less an authority than Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines: "In the good old days," wrote Kelly in December, "when the legacy carriers' costs were higher, we brought our low costs and low fares to their markets, stimulated demand, and expanded dramatically. Now…our advantage has been cut in half. We currently do not have a sufficient cost advantage…our fares are much closer to our [legacy] competitors."
Bottom line: Just keep your eye on the prize - the cheapest airfare.
4. Myth: There's no free lunch
Reality: You'll find plenty of free lunches (dinners, too) especially for the kids when visiting just about any city that depends even, in part, on tourism. Google your destination city and the word 'visit' or 'tourism' and you'll see.
Same for hotels; there are multiple chains offering 'stay X-number of nights, get another night free' deals. Truly the internet is a wonderful thing.
Now excuse me while I go try on last year's bathing suit.