Northwest offers discount 30-day advance fare competitors follow suit

March 11, 1992|By Edwin McDowell | Edwin McDowell,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK B — NEW YORK -- Northwest Airlines sewed another patch in the crazy quilt of airline fares yesterday when it said it would revive its 30-day advance-purchase fares. By the end of the day, American, Delta, United and USAir had matched the discounted, non-refundable fares, effective immediately.

The reductions will provide savings averaging about 10 percent on most fares in the 48 contiguous states. Round-trip flights between New York and Los Angeles and between New York and San Francisco will cost $498 under the new fare.

Although most airlines now offer a $348 New York-Los Angeles round-trip fare and a $358 New York-San Francisco fare, tickets at those prices must be bought by April 30, at least 14 days before departure, and travel must be completed by May 20.

The new 30-day fares are good for travel at any time. The cheapest comparable fare is currently $549.

"We're adding it as a permanent part of our pricing structure," said Jim Faulkner, a Northwest spokesman. At the same time, Northwest and most of its competitors except Delta said they would phase out the seven-day advance-purchase fare.

The new fares are hardly bargain-basement, but they are considered attractive for leisure travelers and vacationers who plan their trips well in advance.

The new fares suggest that air traffic has not been improving as much as the carriers would like.

Northwest's traffic increased 30.3 percent last month compared with February 1991, during the height of the Persian Gulf war, but only 59.6 percent of its seats were filled in February -- several percentage points below what carriers figure they need to break even.

Northwest and Delta also said yesterday that they would match American's offer Monday to give free tickets on many international flights to buyers of full-fare tickets. A spokesman for American, however, said that airline was merely matching United Airlines, which made such an offer Feb. 15 in a mailing to members of its frequent-fliers club.

Under that offer, passengers flying a first-class round trip on many international flights would receive a free business class round-trip ticket, and passengers flying business class or full-fare coach would receive a free coach ticket. There are a number of restrictions to the offer.

The new fares come less than a week after American offered trans-Atlantic fares for spring and summer as low as $448 round trip from New York to London and $548 to Paris, Brussels, Belgium, and Zurich, Switzerland. American said at the time that while trans-Atlantic air travel was up, advance bookings to Europe were lagging.

Some industry executives, however, say air traffic across the North Atlantic is quite weak.

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