If flying seems like an increasingly expensive option, you're not imagining things. Airfares rose for the fourth straight year in 2013, bringing the average domestic ticket, with tax, up to $363.42, according to an AP analysis of travel data. That's up 2% on the year and 12% above the recession-fueled 2009 low. What's more, flights are getting more crowded as airlines kill off unprofitable routes and merge flights.
"Anyone traveling today will know that those flights are full," says an executive for a company that handles ticket transactions for sites like Orbitz. "Just through supply and demand, those fares will go up." Rick Seaney at USA Today expects the trend to be even more pronounced this year, with fares rising 4% to 5.5% before all is said and done. He advises buying tickets three-and-a-half months in advance for domestic flights, and definitely no later than 21 days before departure.