Major airlines cut fares up to 30% Carriers try to lure frugal vacationers out of automobiles and into the skies

June 22, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

Hoping to give a lift to what they fear will be a lackluster summer travel season, major airlines followed Northwest Airlines' lead by slashing fares up to 30 percent yesterday.

The discount fares -- which follow similar cuts offered by airlines this spring -- are good news for travelers, who so far seem to be staying closer to home and spending less this summer, according to travel industry officials. The airlines hope the discount fares will encourage consumers who have postponed making summer travel plans to consider air travel.

The sluggish air travel market, however, stands in contrast to most of the travel business, which has been moving ahead as planned.

Summer travel nationwide is still expected to rise 4 percent from last year's level despite some unexpected weakness in airline passenger traffic, according to industry estimates. Cautious consumers are once again expected to be attracted to low-cost, close-in vacation destinations and activities.

"People have substituted [road] trips for air travel," said travel researchers Stanley C. Plog. Amusement parks in Orlando, Fla., music festivals and weekend getaways to small towns will gain ground this summer, Mr. Plog said.

Most major airlines -- American, Delta, Continental and United -- matched yesterday a 30 percent discount sale started by Northwest over the weekend. Last week, airline stocks tumbled when American and USAir reported that passenger traffic -- while running ahead of last year -- was falling below expectations.

Long-distance trips to Europe and Hawaii are losing ground to amusement parks and casinos, said James Cammisa, publisher of Travel Industry Indicators newsletter.

"When you have a lot of economic insecurity, people are more careful about impulse purchases or frivolous purchases or high-ticket things," said Mr. Cammisa.

"When you spend on travel, the money is here today and gone tomorrow. All you got is some pictures left over."

More consumers seem to be waiting until the last minute to book vacations, hoping for summer fare wars and other discounts, said Judy Glunz at MLT Vacation, a Minneapolis-based tour operator.

"We are still booking June in June," Ms. Glunz said. After a slow start, the flow of reservations has increased, and MLT has hired more agents to handle customer calls.

"We were concerned at first, but it has picked up," Ms. Glunz said.

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