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Continental Sets Off New Round of Air Fare Cuts : Ticket Prices Slashed as Low as $318 Round Trip to East Coast; Other Carriers Plan to Match It

August 13, 1994|CHRIS WOODYARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Continental Airlines launched a fall air fare sale Friday that slashed airline ticket prices from from Orange County to Newark to as low as $318 round trip.

Major carriers, including American and USAir, said they will match the fare reductions of up to 60%, but only on competitive routes.

The fare cuts come despite one of the healthiest summers in recent years for airlines.

"We want to continue this momentum into the fall season," explained Don Valentine, senior vice president of Houston-based Continental.

Continental operates 14 flights a day from Orange County's John Wayne Airport. The previous round-trip fare on its direct flight to Newark was $458. Other round-trip ticket prices on direct flights from Orange County include $278 to Houston, which was previously $368; and $78 to Tucson, Ariz., previously $98.

While fall discounting has become an annual ritual, travel industry specialists say they are surprised at how fast and furious the competing offers have been launched this year.

"Traffic drops off like mad after Labor Day, and carriers are trying to bolster their traffic, so they offer these fares," said Lee Howard, an airline economics consultant in Washington. And now that many of the carriers have reduced their overall costs--Continental, for instance, won concessions through bankruptcy proceedings--the airlines stand a greater chance of still being profitable despite price cutting.

Thom Nulty, president of the Associated Travel Management chain based in Santa Ana, said consumers are becoming so accustomed to the fare cuts that they won't buy tickets without one. He compared it to a close-out sale at a store that seemingly goes on forever.

Judy Burns, owner of Santa Monica Travel, said that a few consumers called to make reservations Friday in response to Continental's offer. Though the number of discount seats are being limited, she said customers found a ready supply of them.

The tickets, which must be purchased by Aug. 26, are good for travel from Aug. 27 on domestic routes and beginning Sept. 5 on international flights. Travel must be completed by Dec. 10. The cuts don't include travel on Nov. 23, 27 and 28. A Friday or Saturday night stay is required; domestic tickets are non-refundable but international tickets are refundable.

The sale comes about two weeks after a round of ticket price reductions was initiated by American Airlines, which offered discounts up to 40%. American spokesman Tim Smith said Friday that travelers who have already bought tickets can try to book at their new, lower rate for a standard $35 fee.

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