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Affordable Bay Area flights a rarity

I'm hoping to fly to the Bay Area in March, but I looked at the fares today and it was rather depressing. United is the only one with a direct flight to San Francisco, and its cheapest fare was $487. Alaska had one that required acrobatic reflexes for $250, but I was hoping to spend my time in the Bay Area, not another airport. Delta, what can you say for a $360, five-hour and 20-minute excursion via wherever to get to San Francisco? I don't really mind driving, but I don't have the extra time, and parking costs are enormous. Any ideas on how I can avoid draining my checking account?

— Judith R., Eagle Point 

 Anyone who has lived in the Rogue Valley for more than a decade knows that cheap flights to the Bay Area are a rarity, and when reasonable fares do come along, they don't last long.

Whenever another airline has challenged United, and now United Express, with lower fares to the Bay Area, United drops its price to fend off the competition. When the competitors throw in the towel, United rates go back up. Unless there is another player waiting in the wings, you'll have to make do with the status quo.

In the meantime, we consulted our buds at Airfare Watchdog, who passed along some suggestions: Search for fares well before you plan to travel and check continually, fares do fluctuate, and if you see the routine fare, you'll know a good one when you see it. You're not going to find great fares during peak travel days — Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring vacation — so being flexible about your flying dates can work in your favor. Friday and Sunday are usually departure and return dates for a lot of people, so those may be more spendy, as well.

Check different travel sites, you'll find the same flight will vary in cost from site to site, and take the time establish alerts for airports and routes you desire to fly. If you find a great deal on a travel site, read the fine print, it can save you untold headaches. 

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