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Major U.S. airlines cutting fares for holiday travel

October 31, 2008|The Associated Press

DALLAS — When it comes to holiday travel plans, good things may come to those who waited.

The major U.S. airlines have cut many fares for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

The airlines, in the midst of their worst year since at least 2005, may see the price-cutting as necessary in the face of a slumping economy that could cut into leisure and business travel. Airfare experts say they typically don't see this kind of price-cutting until the last couple of weeks before big holidays.

Northwest Airlines started the rush Tuesday night with a broad holiday fare sale, and most other major carriers matched the prices Wednesday, said Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel website

"It's by far the most broad-based fare sale we've tracked in at least 18 months," Seaney said Thursday, "and this is the earliest I've ever seen one."

Tom Parsons, chief executive of discount travel site, said in many cases travelers could still find better deals by shopping around and considering alternative airports.

"I've been looking for this sale for two or three weeks," Parsons said. "When I finally saw it, it was kind of a letdown."

Parsons said the cuts were as high as 25% off the previous price for tickets that must be bought 21 or 30 days ahead of travel. He said travelers using secondary airports that typically have higher prices will get the biggest breaks.

But there are cheaper fares available on routes in which the big airlines compete with low-cost carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran, he said.

Some of the sale fares have blackout dates of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 -- the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving -- and Dec. 20. And there are only a few "super off-peak" days, as Northwest calls them.

Some of the cuts are dramatic. Delta Air Lines shaved the cheapest price for an Atlanta-Nashville round trip around Thanksgiving to $238 from nearly $500, Seaney said. The cheapest Minneapolis-Seattle flight is $248. In most cases, the prices are good until at least late November.

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