MINNEAPOLIS -- Just as family summer travel is taking off, so are ticket prices.
Fares for the June-to-August period are up 24 percent from last summer with an average $321 round trip, according to fare-tracking website Bing Travel. Memorial Day fares are up 18 percent to an average of $332.
Travel demand is picking up as the economy improves. At the same time, airlines haven't rushed to bring back the planes and available seats they took out of service during the recession. That allows them to push fares higher. So travelers will be hard-pressed to find deals like last summer, when fares dropped to their lowest levels since 2004.
Shifting travel dates around always has been one way to find better fares. That's even more important this summer, said Joel Grus, who tracks fares for Bing.
In raising fares, the airlines are employing a tactic first used for Thanksgiving travel last year. Most of the big carriers added $10 to $30 "peak travel" surcharges each way on nearly every day between June 10 and Aug. 22, according to an analysis by FareCompare.com.
The surcharges add up.
A family of four traveling on a $30 day would pay out $240 round-trip. Flying on $10 days instead would cut the bill to $80 round-trip.
The surcharges aren't broken out -- they're included in the total fare. A customer can see them in the fine print for each fare's rules.
FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney says surcharges are generally highest on Sundays and lowest on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Airlines have dropped the surcharges from some fare sales, as well as many flights that compete with Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, two carriers that have avoided the surcharge, Seaney said.
Surcharge or not, passengers can expect a crowded plane. U.S. airlines are expecting about 1 percent more travelers this summer, according to the Air Transport Association trade group.
But the overall number of seats is rising just 0.6 percent, most of them on international flights, the group said.
"There will be hardly an empty seat all summer long," Seaney said.