Holiday travelers were given a second chance to buy discounted airplane tickets Monday as carriers cut fares around Christmas and New Year's Day by up to 30% but excluded some of the most popular travel days.
The sale, which was launched by Northwest Airlines and matched by most major carriers, is the second since October for the holiday period and signals that some airlines still had plenty of empty seats despite earlier discounts.
"We think a lot of people have been holding back and waiting for lower fares," said Northwest spokeswoman Jane Nachtigal. "So that's what we are offering."
Another sale, started last week by Trans World Airlines, offers discounts of up to 35% for trips from Jan. 6 through March 31 and gives customers until Friday to buy tickets. Travelers also have until Friday to buy the limited number of holiday discounted tickets, which must be used for flights between Dec. 13 and Jan. 5. The non-refundable tickets must be purchased seven days before departure and require a Saturday night stay for most destinations.
Some of the most popular travel days--Dec. 22 and 23 and Jan. 2--are excluded from the sale. The biggest discounts are available Dec. 13-15, 19, 20, 24, 25 and 31.
Under the sale, the cost of a Los Angeles-New York round trip ranges from $418 to $449, depending on the day of travel. Before the promotion, the lowest round-trip fare on the route was $598.
A round trip from Los Angeles to Minneapolis ranges from $378 to $436 in the sale. The lowest available round-trip fare before the discounts was $513.
Other airlines, including Delta Air Lines, USAir, Continental Airlines, TWA and America West Airlines, matched the fares on routes where they compete with Northwest. But those carriers might be forced to expand the scope of the sale because United and American--the nation's two largest carriers--applied the lower prices to their entire domestic system.
"This is still in a reasonable range," Delta spokesman William Berry said. "This should do a good job filling seats that are otherwise empty between extremely busy travel days."
Marty Heires, an American Airlines spokesman, said the carrier's holiday bookings have been strong but that it will match the cuts to remain competitive.
Airlines historically cut fares during the winter months when travel is typically slack, and they sometimes hold more than one sale for the holiday period.
Northwest was also the instigator of the holiday travel discounting in late October, when it cut fares up to 40%. Tickets are discounted up to 30% under the current sale.
"There have been better deals," said Thomas Nulty, president of Santa Ana-based Associated Travel Management. But "it is a pretty good deal for people buying at the last minute."
Passengers who had purchased tickets at higher fares might be able to get an airline credit for the difference, provided seats are available at the lower fares.
Northwest announced the sale Sunday when other airline executive offices are closed. It entered the new prices in its computerized ticketing reservations system, while competitors could not get the discounts logged until Monday.