Air fare price war underway

January 23, 2009 1:01:07 PM PST
Major airlines moved Friday to match a fare sale started by Southwest Airlines Co., as the carriers worry about weak demand for travel during a recession. Southwest said that through Monday it would sell seats to almost everywhere it flies starting at $49 to $99 each way. Tickets must be bought at least 14 days before flying, travel must be completed by March 11 and seats are limited, the airline said.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Continental Airlines Inc., US Airways Group Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp. matched the Southwest prices, officials at those carriers said. UAL Corp.'s United Airlines has its own fare sale that began on Jan. 16, said spokeswoman Robin Urbanski.

Delta Air Lines Inc. also appeared to match the Southwest move. Delta posted a systemwide fare sale on its Web site that runs through Monday - same as the Southwest sale. A three-day sale by AirTran ended Thursday night.

Representatives at Delta did not immediately return messages.

Dallas-based Southwest launched the sale shortly after announcing Thursday that it lost money in the fourth quarter, its second-straight losing quarter after 69 straight profitable ones.

Chief Executive Gary Kelly said Thursday that there was "notable softness" in February and March bookings. The day before, AMR Chief Financial Officer Thomas Horton said March looked particularly weak.

Airlines often match their rivals' fares rather than risk losing price-sensitive passengers.

Last year, airlines raised prices several times and imposed new fees on checked bags to counter rising fuel prices. Although fuel prices have fallen sharply, most of the fees are still in effect.

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