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Airlines' Latest Fare War Offers Cuts of Up to 45%

March 05, 1994|From Reuters

NEW YORK — Northwest Airlines sparked a new round of air fare cuts Friday, with steep discounts for spring travel that other major carriers immediately matched.

The discounts marked the second round of cuts in just a few days. Earlier this week, America West announced discounts of up to 52% for travel through June 15 on its longest U.S. flights.

Minneapolis-based Northwest, which has often taken the lead in air fare wars, Friday offered discounts of up to 45% off current prices.

American, United, Delta, Continental and Trans World airlines all said they would match the discounts in markets where they compete with Northwest.

But travelers will have to plan ahead. Unlike other recent discounts, this round requires a 30-day advance purchase.

The cheaper fares are good for travel in all 50 states; Canada; Cancun, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Montego Bay, Jamaica, said Northwest, the nation's fourth-largest carrier.

The discount tickets, for sale until midnight March 11, are good between April 4 and June 15, it said.

As examples of the reduced fares, Northwest said passengers can fly round-trip between Minneapolis and Los Angeles for $298, down from $558; Memphis and Seattle for $318, down from $590, and Los Angeles and New York for $358, down from $643.

The fares require a Saturday night stay and are non-refundable. Other restrictions may apply.

The 30-day advance purchase mandate marks a change from typical sales, which required travelers to buy tickets 14 days in advance.

"I can't remember the last time we saw one of these," said Jon Ash of Global Aviation Associates Ltd. in Washington.

Industry analysts said the switch to a 30-day advance purchase requirement is a move to keep fares high for business travelers and entice fliers to plan trips early.

"This is leisure-oriented. There aren't many businessmen who can plan well ahead," Ash said.

One industry source, who did not want to be identified, described the 30-day advance purchase requirement as a "calculated experiment" by Northwest. A spokesman for the airline declined to comment on the reasoning behind the latest discounts.

But Northwest officials have told Wall Street analysts that fare discounts are part of their strategy, sources said.

The latest round of ticket price discounts partly overlaps with the America West sale.

For example, the cheapest flight between Los Angeles and New York under the Northwest sale is $358, but it could be as low as $318 under the America West sale.

In either case, the discounts are sharply lower than the standard fare of $643.

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