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Monday, August 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Farecast expands online services

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle-based airfare prediction Web site Farecast has pushed up the expansion of its newly launched online service, announcing today that travelers in more than 55 cities can now browse domestic fares from their home airports.

The site, www.farecast.com, gives air travelers predictions about whether a fare is likely to go up, go down or stay the same over time.

It started on a trial basis this summer after the company secured $8.5 million in venture capital. But visitors to the site could search only for trips originating in either Seattle or Boston.

Users can now compare fares from Portland, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, among other cities.

Company President and Chief Executive Hugh Crean hopes to capitalize on the frustration of finding multiple fares for the same destination one week, only to have them change without warning and seemingly without reason the next.

He said Farecast helps by giving clues to a simple question, which is something of a mantra for the business: "Should I buy or should I wait?"

"Knowing when to buy is very important and can save you money," said Crean, whose company was able to speed up the introduction of the expanded service, originally not expected until year-end.

A trip between Seattle and Chicago, departing Sept. 26 and returning Oct. 3, for instance, showed a fare of $239 roundtrip on Delta Airlines and America West as of Friday morning.

At the top of the Farecast results page, a green arrow pointing down came with text saying that Farecast was 80 percent confident the price would drop an average $31 over the following seven days.

A chart to the right of the arrow showed the fare history for that itinerary going back nearly two months. The price briefly spiked to $260 July 7, but stood at $239 most of that period.

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Using fare histories and computer technology developed at the University of Washington, Farecast makes what amounts to a well-educated guess about where a fare will go in the coming week based on the date and even time of day.

But Crean emphasized Farecast isn't promoting itself as foolproof. He said it has been 70 to 75 percent accurate on fares so far.

Among the site's other features, users can plug in up to five cities at the same time to compare fares on a colored chart showing many dates of departure.

In the two months Farecast has been available to the public, Crean said the biggest complaint was that it didn't include more departure cities. The blog www.techcrunch.com also pointed out that Southwest Airlines, for one, doesn't work with Farecast, so on some trips users may not have access to all fare options.

Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or tbeason@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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