American Airlines Touts Cheap Fares in Effort to Catch Jet Blue

By ANDY FIXMER
Staff Reporter

When is a fare war not a fare war?

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines announcement last week that it would cap one-way fares between Long Beach and New York at $299 for coach and $599 for first class was a bit of sleight of hand.

American has been in a pitched battle at Long Beach with New York-based discount airline JetBlue Airways, which is offering $139 one-way flights to JFK International Airport. But the $299 fare American is pitching has been in effect since JetBlue named Long Beach Airport its West Coast hub last year and began offering non-stop service between the two destinations, according to CheapSeats.com.

"It's not a real deal," said Terry Tippler, who tracks airlines for Minneapolis-based CheapSeats.com. "If you look at what their normal rate would have been, it was already right around that price."

For its part, American Airlines isn't disputing that the announcement may be nothing more than a marketing ploy.

"Customers were not yet convinced we had the same low competitive airfares as our competitors and that frustrated us," said Todd Burke, a company spokesman. "This is our way of showing customers that we are competitive on price."

But don't expect other carriers to start chipping away at their prices. Tippler said airfares between Los Angeles and New York are already heavily discounted because of the high volume of flights being offered.

"Time will only tell how much of a groundswell this will create," said Ron Archer, vice-president of Montrose-based Archer Travel. "But I'm not holding my breath."

As of last Thursday, none of the other airlines serving Los Angeles had announced reductions for 14-day advanced ticket purchases. But that didn't prevent them from talking tough.

Delta Air Lines Inc. has publicly vowed to price its flights competitively with those offered by JetBlue and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, according to a company spokesman.

"If we consider it to be direct competition, then we are going to be tough on prices with them," said Delta spokesman Adam Black.

Tough is relative. As of last week, the lowest fare offered to New York by Delta, which does not fly out of Long Beach, was $444 round-trip, with a layover, out of LAX. A regular coach seat on a non-stop round trip out of LAX would cost $2,293 on a 14-day advance purchase.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines has not lowered its fares, according to travel agents.

A United spokesman said the company is committed to keeping its prices on par with its competitors, but had not recently announced any discounts or lower fares.

Indeed, a round trip coach flight on United from LAX to JFK would cost $1,245 with a 14-day advanced purchase.

"Every airline (other than United) is claiming they won't be undercut on any fare, which is ridiculous at these prices," Archer said. "They're all undermining their own chances of recovery."

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