USAir announced yesterday a program of discount fares aimed at stimulating leisure traffic during the slow winter travel season.
The airline, the dominant carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, is offering mileage-based discounts of 10 percent to 25 percent off most excursion fares for travel from Jan. 7 through March 31.
However, for many popular resort areas where air traffic is normally high during the winter -- parts of Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Nassau in the Bahamas -- the discounts will be available only until Feb. 9.
Citing success with a similar discount-fare program this fall, USAir said that it hoped this program would entice people to fly despite widespread anxiety about the state of the economy.
USAir, which is based in Arlington, Va., expects to lose $500 million this year. In May, it cut back flights in order to reduce costs and increase the percentage of seats it fills on each flight.
The fall fare reductions helped the airline boost those load factors in October. The airline managed to fill 63 percent of its seats, compared with 59.5 percent in the same month a year ago.
Some travel agencies wondered whether the discounts would be steep enough to attract many travelers. "It may not be cheap enough," said Richard Purdy, manager of Peirson Travel Service in Catonsville. "It should be interesting to see what kind of response they get."
Passengers must purchase tickets 14 days in advance and stay over a Saturday night.
Fares are based on a mileage formula. For example, round-trip tickets to destinations within 301 miles can be purchased for $138, within 900 miles for $238 and within 1,750 miles for $358. The fares do not apply to most international flights.
Jack Ciesielski, an analyst for Legg Mason, said that the discounts should allow the airline to fill more seats without eroding its revenue base. He observed that the fall discount program "wasn't anything that destroyed the average fare."
Other carriers reacted quickly to USAir's fare cuts.
The Associated Press reported that Trans World Airlines offered half-price international business fares, although Northeast travelers won't benefit from them because that competitive region is excluded from the promotion.
American, United and Northwest airlines said that they would match USAir's cuts, but they were still studying TWA's offer.