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Key Airlines Match Delta on Fare Cuts : Transportation: United, American join others in a reduction of as much as 35% through mid-December.


Seeking to stimulate travel in the traditionally slow fall period, major airlines such as United and American on Thursday joined Delta Air Lines in cutting fares as much as 35% for flights through mid-December.

While the discounts are not nearly as dramatic as those offered last summer or fall, they nonetheless provide some of the best deals this year and should entice many travelers to pack their suitcases, travel industry officials said.

"It's still inflated, but it's some of the lower fares we've seen in a while," said Jim Roberts, president of Uniglobe Regency Travel in Rancho Cucamonga. "This appears to be a genuine sale; the restrictions are very minimal."

Roberts said he sent faxes to 250 of his top customers Thursday so they can start thinking about getting the best fare possible.

Airlines can offer discounts now because many recorded profits in the second quarter of 1993--their first black ink in some time, analysts said. While passenger loads have been lower than last year, airlines are benefiting from higher fares both nationally and in Southern California.

"We had a very good summer," said Vince Durocher, director of Los Angeles area marketing for Delta. He said the latest cuts will "generate additional revenue for us which would offset a traditionally slow period."

But consumers will see higher rates after the latest round of fare wars is over, as airlines seek to bolster profits, analysts predicted.

"This offers (consumers) the opportunity to see (fares) at a substantially lower rate than they are going to see in the coming years," said Barbara Beyer, president of Avmark, an airline consulting firm.

Others predict fare hikes for tickets purchased after Sept. 16.

"The airlines have raised fares nine times since last July," said Tom Parsons, editor of Best Fares magazine. He predicts that airlines will raise original fares by 5% once the sale is over.

Still, Parsons says airlines might make some new announcements extending or matching the latest deal, or even announcing lower fares over the next few days. Thus, consumers should wait a few days until the dust settles, he suggested.

But, as seats are limited, airlines advise flyers not to wait too long.

Delta initiated the latest fare war on Wednesday, and was matched the same day by Northwest, Continental and America West. On Thursday, American, United and USAir joined in the action, while Northwest Airlines--followed by others--took the discount one step further by extending the special rate to flights as early as Aug. 23, up from Sept. 15 in Delta's action.

The lowest round-trip fares from the Los Angeles area to New York will now be between $376 and $433, compared to between $418 and $504 before the cuts.

Consumers who purchase their tickets by Aug. 17 for travel between Aug. 23 and Dec. 15 will receive the biggest discounts. Tickets bought between Aug. 18 and Aug. 31 will carry a 30% discount and those purchased between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15 will have a 25% cut.

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