Travel Notes: U.S. airfare increases not as bad as in 2011

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The bad news for air travelers is that domestic fares have increased about 4.5 percent in 2012, bringing the average airline ticket to about $375.

The good news is that the increase has been modest compared with 2011, when fares jumped 8.3 percent. Even better news, industry analysts predict air fares will rise even less in 2013.

But before you pop the cork on the champagne, know that industry experts warn fares could still soar in the last two months of this year.

In fact, Southwest Airlines, the nation's largest carrier of domestic passengers, raised domestic prices last week $4 to $10 per round trip, depending on the route. It was an increase matched by all the major U.S.-based carriers.

The increase was the 14th price boost in 2012, half of which were matched by all the major airlines and half of which were rescinded after few, if any, airlines went along with the hike.

"At the moment, it's impossible to say if 2012 will see more airfare hikes, but don't bet against it -- not if history is any guide," said Anne McDermott, editor at airfare news website FareCompare.

The average domestic fare for September was $375.35, according to the Airline Reporting Corp., the Arlington, Va., company that manages payments for tickets between travel agents and airlines.

A forecast released last week by American Express Global Business Travel predicted airfares in North American would rise 1 percent to 4 percent in 2013, depending on the airline seat and the length of the flight.

An earlier forecast by business travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel came up with a similar conclusion -- a rise of 2.8 percent for the year.

Flight meal reservations

Chicken or fish.

Only a few years ago, that was the only choice of reheated meals you were given when you flew in a first-class seat.

But now airlines are tapping celebrity chefs such as Suzanne Goin by Singapore Airlines, Michelle Bernstein by Delta Airlines and Sam Choy by American Airlines to cook up the kind of meals you don't expect at 30,000 feet.

American Airlines is going a step further by letting first- and business-class passengers review and reserve their in-flight meal via the airline's website. You get to choose from among two or three entrees -- the same choices you get when you board the plane.

The advantage of the program, according to the airline, is that you are guaranteed the meal you ordered and are not stuck with whatever food is left when the flight attendant gets around to serving your row.

American, which is not charging an extra fee for the service, says it is the first domestic airline to offer the option, which will roll out gradually to its flights.

Red Roof Inn upgrades

Give the people what they want. That was the sentiment behind a $120 million redesign effort launched last year by Red Roof Inn at nearly 121 hotels across the country.

The hotel improvements were made based on comments the Columbus, Ohio, hotel chain received from thousands of guests staying in hotels in Texas, Georgia and Ohio.

And it appears that the upgrades have been a success.

The hotels that got the face lifts have seen a 10.6 percent increase in sales, compared with a 6 percent increase among all 350 hotels in the chain, according to Red Roof Inn.

Based on the earlier guest comments, the hotel chain replaced in-room carpeting with hardwood floors, swapped out Formica counter tops with granite and added outlets above the nightstand, among other improvements. Such upgrades have been made at Red Roof Inn hotels in San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Red Roof Inn President Andy Alexander said feedback from guests suggests that the granite countertops and the hardwood floors give the room a cleaner smell.

"If it smells cleaner, it probably is cleaner," he said.

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