Leisure fares rise $20 on three airlines
By Brad Foss
NEW YORK Three of the nation's largest airlines have raised the price of round-trip fares for leisure travelers by $20, less than a week after the Memorial Day holiday, the official beginning of the summer travel season.
Continental Airlines initiated the fare increase late Thursday and Delta Air Lines and American Airlines matched it yesterday.
The change, which applies to advance-purchase tickets requiring a Saturday night stay, resembles a fare hike announced by several carriers in April but dropped once it became clear that the rest of the industry would not go along.
Terry Trippler, who runs a travel information Web site and closely follows airfares, said nearly all 7-, 14- and 21-day advance purchase tickets offered by American, Continental and Delta are affected. Fares reserved on short notice, typically purchased by business travelers, have not changed, Trippler said.
Frontier Airlines, a small budget carrier which operates from Denver, also raised its fares by $20.
Since demand is higher during summer, Trippler said he expects other major carriers will follow suit and that the fare hike will stick.
"With the lack of high-paying business travelers, the burden to make an airline profitable now falls on the group that is flying the discretionary leisure travelers," said Tom Parsons, chief executive of Bestfares.com.
Still, this is the third time since mid-April that Continental has attempted to raise advance-purchase fares by $20.
"All of the attempts have failed because Northwest Airlines opted not to match the fare hikes by the other major airlines," Parsons said.
While passenger demand was down 12 percent in April compared with last year, air travel has increased incrementally since the sharp dropoff related to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Nevertheless, the return of passengers has not translated into profits because carriers have spurred demand by keeping prices well below year-ago levels. The average price of domestic airfare was down roughly 12 percent in April, compared with a year ago, with a 1,000-mile domestic trip costing $124.80.