Consumer Confidential: Fare hike eases, cars sales rise, free pancakes at IHOP

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Here’s your and-Toto-too Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Nice try, guys. Looks like an attempt by big airlines to slap a $20 fare hike on tickets has been thwarted (a bit) by discount carriers that refused to play ball. The big network carriers, including United, Continental, Delta and American, raised many domestic fares last week by $20 a round trip. By Monday afternoon, the increase had been cut to $10. Apparently the rollback occurred after low-fare airlines Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran and Frontier began raising fares only half as much as the larger carriers. The big boys then cut their increases in half to avoid charging more than their low-fare competitors. The airlines have already attempted five broad-based price increases this year, with most of them sticking. I have no doubt they’ll try again.

-- We’re buying cars again. February was one of the strongest months in the last year for auto purchases as consumers made a return to showrooms. General Motors says its February sales rose 46% compared with a year earlier to 207,028 vehicles. GM’s numbers were boosted by strong incentives, such as rebates, to sweeten deals. For its part, Ford says its February sales rose 14% compared with the same month a year earlier to 156,626. Analysts say consumers are shopping for wheels more aggressively than has been the case for months, and that bodes well for the entire auto industry.

-- And if you don’t want a car, how about pancakes? This is IHOP National Pancake Day, and the nearly 1,500 IHOP restaurants nationwide are offering a free ‘short stack’ (three pancakes) to anyone who wants them. But the Glendale-based chain is suggesting that customers make a donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. A few restaurants in smaller markets are also suggesting donations to local charities, but the main focus is on the hospitals. Since its first National Pancake Day in 2006, IHOP has raised $5.4 million for the network. And that’s a good thing.


-- David Lazarus