Southwest, AirTran declare fare sales; most other airlines match

Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways announced three-day domestic fare sales Tuesday to drum up demand for the sluggish weeks leading to summer.

“After spring break, before summer, we see a window where we can stimulate some traffic,” says Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz.

Calling the sales “aggressive,” Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com, says other major network carriers —American Airlines, United, Delta, Continental, Northwest and Midwest — mostly matched the fares, and the move “may put pressure on JetBlue and Virgin America.”

“Good news is that the two largest low-cost carriers are bringing out their best of the best,” he says.

•Southwest (LUV), the largest low-cost carrier in the USA, is offering customers round-trip fares ranging from $98 to $198 in select cities. Fares are available on the airline’s website and must be purchased by Jan. 21. Tickets are good for travel Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays between April 7 and May 25.

“We have been more aggressive (coming into 2010) because we are trying to stimulate traffic in a somewhat down economy,” Mainz says.

Some sample fares include: $98 round-trip between Chicago Midway and Kansas City; $134 between Reno/Tahoe and Los Angeles; and $198 between Seattle and Austin.

Just as all days aren’t included, not all routes are. Parsons notes that Southwest isn’t offering sale fares to some long destinations, including coast-to-coast flights. He says, “$99 (one-way) will get you about 1,800 miles.”

AirTran‘s (AAI) sale applies to all destinations, and discounted fares range from $88 to $338. The sale fares must be purchased by Jan. 21. Travel must be completed by March 10 for Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Aruba; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nassau, Bahamas; and Cancun. Tickets to other destinations must be used by May 26.

Lowest fares are valid for travel Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Traveling on other days will require paying a “peak” premium. “January is a particularly slow month, so we’re trying to spur demand,” says AirTran spokesman Christopher White.

Sample round-trip fares include: $88 between Orlando and Nassau; $148 between Indianapolis and Tampa; and $318 between Atlanta and San Francisco.

Parsons says he expects more sales throughout the year and advises flexible consumers to buy only when they’re offered. “The lesson in 2010 is, stay within fare sales,” he says.

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