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Summer travel deals online

Air fare bargains may be scant for the summer, but a rising number of discounts are offered online.

Air fare bargains are scant as the summer travel season is in full swing, but a growing number of deals are being offered to travelers who book their tickets online.

In the latest example, American Airlines and Travelocity said today they would offer discounts on tickets bought off their Web sites. (Both are financially linked to the same corporate parent.)

Customers who buy their tickets on Travelocity "will receive 50 percent off their next American round-trip ticket" bought through Travelocity or 25 percent off up to four of their next American round-trip tickets booked through the site on the same itinerary. The deal is good through July 15.

Online travel bargains, not just for airlines but for hotels and rental cars, are booming in a bid to ramp up business on this new, low-cost distribution channel. American Express offers travel discounts on its Web site. (An $89 per night room at the Omni Hotel in New Orleans is listed, for example.)

Among airlines, carriers such as American and Continental offer discounts to travelers. American's NetSAAvers are sent to Netizens each week, offering deep discounts between cities such as Dallas and London, as well as Miami and cities in Latin America. Continental has a similar plan. Users typically sign up to get the fares via email, and they often require travel on short notice.

Other online travel sites such as Preview Travel offer search functions that seek out the lowest fares.

Despite the benefits, many users complain that the sites need to be more user-friendly. They also worry about security issues from buying tickets online.