Fare warning

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You've heard by now that Continental Airlines hurried to cover its exposed-but-ever-moving tail last weekend, once it became clear that the other major carriers were shying away from matching its jacked-up fares.

With a media klieg light trained on Continental following Friday's fare increase, the carrier blinked. Pre-hike fares prevailed by Monday.

Now up pops a facinating twist: A spot check of current fares found that many carriers used Continental's cloud cover to quietly bump up ticket prices on selected flights while publicly backing away from system-wide increases.

Sneaky? Maybe, a little. But what's interesting is the heavy-duty scrutiny that any fare increase now receives. Time was, this kind of an end run would likely have gone unnoticed. But thanks to the Internet, changes in airline pricing structures are instantaneously available to anybody with a mouse and a modem.

Travelers are harder to fool nowadays. God bless their little 56K hearts.

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