Major airlines said Monday they will match fare cuts initiated by Northwest Airlines that will slash ticket prices by as much as 40% during much of the peak holiday travel season, traditionally the most profitable time of the year for U.S. airlines.
Travel industry experts say that Northwest's move was unusual, since airlines customarily "black out" discounted travel from Dec. 16 to Jan. 2. Still, airlines are finding that many consumers simply won't travel unless they receive a discount, putting pressure on carriers to offer more fare sales.
Passengers "always wait until another deal comes through," said Dianne LaPorte, vice president of World Travel in Santa Ana. "The mentality is, if you miss this sale, there will be another one."
The fare reductions by Northwest, for example, could cut the price of a round-trip ticket from Orange County to Minneapolis to $398, down from $468, or a round-trip from LAX to Memphis for $388, down from $450. American, United, Continental and Delta, among others, all matched the fare cuts.
However, no discounts are being offered on the five most popular days around the holidays: including the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after as well as the Friday before Christmas Day, which falls on a Sunday this year. The other two dates on which the discounts don't apply are Dec. 26 and Jan. 2.
The deepest discounts are available during midweek, but the tickets are non-refundable and must be purchased by Friday for travel between Nov. 24 and Jan. 14.
"It gives holiday travelers a last chance to buy some good discounts," Northwest spokesman Jim Faulkner said Monday. "They probably won't see holiday discounts like this again."
In a separate development, United Airlines said its Shuttle by United will match the $39 fare for flights inside California started by Southwest Airlines. The tickets must be purchased at least 21 days in advance.