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Fans hoping to join Mountaineers can expect costly road trip

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mountaineer fans waiting until the last minute to book flights for the WVU-Texas football game this weekend will have to cough up some serious dough to do so.

Round-trip airfare between Charleston and Austin this weekend will set you back at least $1,000 — and that's the "bargain" price.

Excitement surrounding West Virginia University's inaugural Big 12 Conference football season hit a fever pitch over the weekend following WVU's offensive blitzkrieg victory over Baylor Saturday in Morgantown.

On Saturday, No. 8 ranked WVU will face the No. 11 ranked Texas Longhorns in the Mountaineer's first Big 12 road game.

With national sports pundits proclaiming WVU quarterback Geno Smith a clear front-runner for this year's Heisman Trophy award, many fans are eager to see how Smith performs against the Texas defense.

"There's definitely more people interested in going to away games," said Brian Belcher, director of marketing at Yeager Airport.

"I think there's such an interest in West Virginia University right now that a lot of fans are willing follow the team to these games," he said.

All the interest and hype around the team and its quarterback have affected travel prices.

Tickets on flights between Charleston and Austin, Texas are in high demand right now. As a result, fares have gone sky high.

A Priceline.com search Tuesday afternoon found round-trip airfare rates ranging from $1,074 to $2,101 per seat.

That's a far cry from where prices for those flights started out.

"If people bought their tickets early, they were going to get about $350 round trip," Belcher said.

Yeager offers a daily direct flight to Houston. There also are several options to catch connecting flights to Austin through hubs in Chicago, Charlotte and Atlanta.

Airlines constantly adjust seat prices to account for changes in demand and availability.

Belcher said officials were watching to see how airfares to Big 12 country changed once the conference released its football schedule in February.

"We kept checking the fares, and it was cheap right at the beginning, but they jumped probably two months after the schedule came out," he said. "We were seeing them early on at like $350, then it jumped to $550."

He said the two months likely covered the time it took for fans to decide which games they would go to and then find hotel rooms before booking their flights.  

As football season approached, prices continued to rise.

Belcher said airport officials had been curious to see how WVU's switch to the Big 12 conference would affect air travel.

He said the early effects indicate if travelers want to save costs, they need to book their tickets as soon as possible.

"You should also look at alternative airports because the price is going to be different for all of them," Belcher said.

While the cheapest fare to Austin is $1,074, travelers could save $200 by booking an $873 fare to San Antonio, located about 80 miles southwest.

Officials at WVU are looking into expanding their role in booking travel packages.  

The WVU Alumni Association offered a special road game travel package for this weekend's game. Association spokeswoman Tara Curtis said the organization may arrange more packages in the future.

"Being part of the Big 12 changes the game a bit, in that we didn't do a lot of travel before other than with bowl games," Curtis said.

"Now we're looking at this as a new opportunity," she said. "Many of these places are not easy to get to, so we thought it would be a good to make arrangements to give fans a chance to travel to these games."

About 130 people purchased tickets for a charter flight out of Clarksburg, while others opted to make travel arrangements on their own.

The association worked with Premier Global Sports, a sports travel and hospitality firm, to arrange lodging and logistics for alumni association members who make the trip.

Local alumni association chapters in Texas are hosting events Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Austin.

Curtis said the association plans to see how things go this season before deciding on whether to expand the travel packages next year.

"We'll take a look at it next year," she said. "It may be something that we look at doing more than once a year."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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