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Consumer Confidential: Credit cards, college costs, travel prices

October 26, 2011 | 10:05 am

Here's your walking-on-sunshine Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Your credit card knows a lot about you, and our friends at Visa and MasterCard may be using that info to sell you stuff. The Wall Street Journal says the credit card companies are currently trying to work out a system whereby purchases consumers make in a brick-and-mortar store can be used to deliver more effective ads online. A MasterCard document obtained by the Journal outlines some of the company's plans, which included linking Web users with purchases. According to document, the credit card provider said it believes "you are what you buy." The Journal said that Visa is planning a similar service, which would aggregate its customers' purchase history into segments, including location, to make ads more effective at appealing to people in a respective area.

-- The cost of a college education keeps going up. Average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose an additional $631 this fall, or 8.3%, compared with a year ago, according to the College Board. Nationally, the cost of a full credit load has passed $8,000, an all-time high. Throw in room and board, and the average list price for a state school now runs more than $17,000 a year. The large increase in federal grants and tax credits for students, on top of stimulus dollars that prevented greater state cuts, helped keep the average tuition and fees that families actually pay much lower: about $2,490, or just $170 more than five years ago. But the days of states and families relying on budget relief from Washington appear numbered.

-- Also heading north: Travel prices. Higher demand and a reduced number of available seats will lead to higher airline ticket prices next year, even in a slow-growing economy, according to the American Express Global Business Travel Forecast. But prices won't jump as much as they did between 2010 and 2011, the forecast said. Business-class airfares are expected to rise the most next year. AmEx predicts prices for shorter North American flights in coach will increase by about 2% to 5%, while prices for longer economy flights will rise by 0.5% to 3.5%. In business class, rates will rise as much as 7% on shorter trips and 5% for longer ones.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: MasterCard and Visa may use your purchases to sell you stuff. Credit: Jonathan Bainbridge / Reuters