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Airline Battle Over Reduced Fares Is Heating Up

<i> Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer</i>

An airline fare war is under way. International and domestic airlines are slugging it out to see who can offer the lowest fares to some very popular destinations.

But why now?

Traditionally during the fall season, fares tend to drop as airlines try to fill unused seats. Inasmuch as fewer people travel between Labor Day and the Christmas holidays, airlines offer cheaper fares in the fall.

This year, however, three additional factors have contributed to the reduced fares.

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First, it is an election year. Americans tend to travel less during an election year.

Second, although many airlines had a strong summer, their profit wasn’t substantially higher over similar periods because fares weren’t substantially higher.

Third, many airlines have chosen to begin new routes and destinations during the soft fall months. To create interest in the new destinations they are offering extremely attractive introductory fares.

New Discounts Offered

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Continental fired the first salvo last month, announcing a wide array of new discounts.

Unrestricted fares on the airline have been reduced up to 70% on nonstop routes between 38 cities and Denver.

Under the Denver discount program (Continental says it is allocating more than 3.5 million seats at these fares), passengers can get some great deals, if they don’t mind flying through the Mile High City.

For example, the lowest unrestricted fare between Washington, D.C., and Denver had been $200 one way. Fares are now $109.

Eastern and Continental then announced special one-way fares for companions of passengers traveling on these new Maxsaver fares. For an additional $79 each way, you can take someone with you.

The lowest Maxsaver fare offered by Continental between New York City and Los Angeles is $258. For another $158, someone can go along.

The new fare structure is valid through Feb. 15 (blackout times are expected during Thanksgiving and Christmas), but this period extends through much of the ski season.

Other carriers, including American, TWA and United, were quick to match Continental and Eastern in markets where they compete with Continental.

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However, be cautious. I placed three calls each to reservations agents at American, TWA and United and asked for their cheapest fare between San Francisco and New York City for two.

Each time I was quoted higher fares until I mentioned the Continental program, at which point the fares were, indeed, matched. Also keep in mind that American, United and TWA, while matching these low fares, do not make available as many seats at these fares as Continental does.

Also, although the special fares are offered, they might not be available for the flight you want to take.

Pan Am Starts World War

On the international front the fare war was started by Pan American, which announced one of the lowest fares ever offered in the U.S.-London market, a $298 Super Eurosaver round-trip from New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Miami. From Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle the round-trip fare to London is $438.

Pan Am fares, Oct. 16 through Dec. 7, are available Sunday through Wednesday to London, and Monday through Thursday going west. All trips must be completed by Dec. 15.

And under the Pan Am deal you must act fast. Tickets must be bought 45 days before departure and paid for within two days of the reservation. And they are not refundable.

Normal round-trip fares during this period have never been lower than $398 between London and New York City or $568 between London and U.S. West Coast cities.

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Pan Am also has added other European cities to the fare deal, including Amsterdam, Athens, West Berlin, Stockholm, Rome, and Nice, France, and Zurich, Switzerland. Sample fares: New York City to Stockholm, $548. The airline also offers reduced-rate hotels in many of these cities.

Within hours of the Pan Am announcement, TWA, Northwest, American and British Airways matched the fares.

Virgin Atlantic also sells the $298 round-trip, New York City-London tickets with only a 30-day advance-purchase requirement, and you can buy the tickets on a one-way basis. Last-minute travelers who miss the 30-day advance deadline can take a chance on standby for the same $149 fare.

These special fares are only the beginning.

In the Caribbean, Eastern now offers $99 one-way tickets between New York City and San Juan for midweek travel through Dec. 14.

One-Way Tickets

To promote its expanding service in the Caribbean, Continental sells one-way tickets between Newark, N.J., and Aruba for $179, to Montego Bay, Jamaica, $159, and to St. Maarten, $163. Service to these destinations begins Dec. 16.

The airline also is starting two daily round trips between Spokane, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C., Canada, this week. The new fares will be a low of $58 each way (first-class is $107).

When Continental announced its new flights between St. Louis and Cleveland, low fares were part of the deal. Fares of $49 are being offered between St. Louis and Cleveland, as well as for flights between St. Louis and Lansing, Saginaw and Flint, Mich.

Fares of $69 are being offered for between St. Louis and Newark, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn. TWA then announced it would match these fares.

In Kansas City, when Braniff announced it would add 26 daily departures, it also promoted low fares to most of its destinations served from its Kansas City hub.

You can now expect most air fares to remain low through the end of this year.

But 1989 will be another story. In fact, there is a chance that there will be fewer airlines next year. If that happens, prices could go up faster than they come down.


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