A hard-fought agreement to open up the trans-Atlantic airline market holds out the promise of slightly cheaper airfares - next spring.

Until then, consumers will have to rely on their own ingenuity to drive down the price of travel. Fortunately, there is a lot of help available, both virtual and human.

In late March, European Union transport ministers approved an "open skies" deal allowing EU airlines to fly from any city in the 27-nation bloc to the United States, and vice versa. It will come into force on March 28, 2008.

"Open Skies won't have much effect on this summer's travel season," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel specialist at Forrester Research in San Francisco. "By next spring, though, it will be a different game altogether.

"Long-term, I see some additional competition taking place and that may lead to better pricing for both leisure and business travelers," he said.

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