TWA Slashes Fares Between Coasts, Is Matched by Rivals
In a dramatic attempt to boost sagging ticket sales, Trans World Airlines on Monday announced a four-day, $198 sale on round trips between West and East Coast cities that was quickly matched by most other major carriers.
The heavily restricted fares are the lowest in years and symbolize the lengths airlines must go to build passenger traffic that has stagnated as a result of the recession and the Persian Gulf War.
“It’s a cheap seat,” said Edward Starkman, an airline industry analyst at PaineWebber. “Until the economy rebounds, we are going to be seeing this type thing.”
TWA’s $198 fare applies to a limited number of West and East Coast cities for travel through Dec. 15. The non-refundable tickets for trips from Los Angeles International Airport to New York, Baltimore and Washington must be purchased by Thursday, Sept. 19.
The fare carries numerous other restrictions and their supply is limited. For instance, the tickets cannot be purchased for travel around the Thanksgiving holiday and require a Saturday night stay over, limiting their appeal to business travelers.
Other major carriers--including United, American, Delta, Continental and USAir--quickly followed TWA’s lead. American, United, Delta and American also expanded the promotional fares to a number of regional airports, such as Long Beach and San Jose, that are not served by TWA.
Many travel industry observers had expected that the traditional fall discount fares would be bigger than normal this year as the airlines struggled to build up traffic. But the discounts announced Monday went beyond expectations.
“I frankly didn’t think they would go this low,” said Thomas Nulty, president of Associated Travel Management, a Santa Ana travel agency. “It’s clearly for leisure travelers. It’s good for those who want to visit friends and relatives.”
The pressure to fill empty seats may force the airlines to extend the time travelers have to purchase the tickets, several travel agents said.
“They want to make a sale. They want to get their money now,” said Klaus Billep, president Universal Travel System, a Santa Monica travel agency.