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Southwest's Airfare Sale Not the Usual Big Bargain

Southwest's Airfare Sale Not the Usual Big Bargain

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Roger Yu | USA Today

Airfares are starting to inch back up, signs indicate, even on the prices of tickets on sale.

Southwest, the nation’s leader in low-cost flying, this week introduced a sale on fares with prices on some routes higher than the lowest fares customers have come to expect.

They included a $118 round trip between Phoenix and San Diego and $296 between Baltimore and Los Angeles.

While “not really that bad,” Tom Parsons of says, the fares are higher than the historical range of Southwest’s sale prices.

Southwest traditionally has set the floor on coast-to-coast fares that are on sale at $99 one way and $198 round trip. The airline’s website now lists new coast-to-coast bottom fares at $149 and $298, respectively.

Frontier and AirTran, Southwest’s low-cost competitors, have also increased sale fares on some routes by $10 each way.

Parsons says the days of rock-bottom fares appear to have ended.

“The writing is on the wall,” says Parsons, whose website monitors prices. “We had nine months of great travel bargains in 2009. Air travelers will be paying much more (in 2010) than they did in early 2009, as much as 50% more.”

Travel website Travelocity also has detected signs that fares are no longer dropping.

Fares booked for fall travel in mid-September were 14% lower than a year ago – down from the 15% year-over-year drop in fares in July, Travelocity’s bookings show.

Genevieve Brown of Travelocity says indications are that “prices are stabilizing.”

Many Southwest fares remain lower than the current discounts being offered. But the new fare sale is a far cry from some of the deep discounts offered over the summer.

In July, Southwest lowered fares to $30 for short-haul flights and coast-to-coast flights $80 each way.

Behind stable or higher fares: Airlines say they’re starting to see the prospect of an increase in demand for travel at the same time they’re cutting supply by offering fewer seats to cut costs.

North American carriers saw international travel demand fall 2.5% from a year ago compared with a 3.2% year-over-year decline in July, according to the International Air Transport Association. At the same time, airlines scheduled 6% fewer seats on domestic flights in August compared with a year ago, according to OAG-The Official Airline Guide OAG. © Copyright 2009 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>

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