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US Airways matches some Southwest fares

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published April 30, 2004

US Airways is starting to act a little like the discount carriers that are threatening its survival.

On Thursday, the airline announced lower everyday fares between Philadelphia and 13 cities, including Tampa.

US Airways is offering the deals only on routes where it will compete with Southwest Airlines, beginning May 9. Many of the prices, which match Southwest's, have been available since mid February.

But for the new "GoFares," US Airways cut the highest walk-up fares by at least 40 percent, reduced first-class prices and waived Saturday night stays on deeply discounted tickets. The fares also are available for one-way travel.

One-way US Airways fares between Tampa and Philadelphia now range from $79 to $379 for coach and $499 for first class. For example, on www.usairways.com Thursday afternoon, a Tampa-to-Philadelphia coach ticket for morning departure May 9 and return on May 12 was showing a fare of $193.20. A May 10 departure brought the round-trip ticket online down to $168.20.

"We have heard our customers loudly and clearly," said B. Ben Baldanza, senior vice president of marketing and planning. "They have told us that fares are too high, too complicated, and that we need to do something about that - and we are."

Such fare structures are a hallmark of low-cost carriers like Southwest. They typically offer only a handful of fares on each route and don't charge sky-high prices for last-minute tickets.

Southwest and some others cap their fares at $299 one way for anywhere they fly.

US Airways set a $499 cap for GoFares, but the highest coach fares are cheaper for routes such as Tampa-Philadelphia.

Some travel experts weren't impressed. If US Airways were serious about giving customers fair prices, said Kim Long, chairman of the Philadelphia Business Travel Association, the airline would offer the new fares on routes where it doesn't compete with Southwest and match the $299 cap.

"They're grasping at straws," said Long, whose group represents Philadelphia corporations with big travel budgets. "It's a perception game."

US Airways will expand GoFares to more routes, said spokesman David Castelveter. But the financially struggling airline must get operating costs down to a level close to Southwest's.

The nation's seventh-largest carrier and No. 3 at Tampa International Airport, US Airways has lost more than $4.8-billion since 2001 - largely because of low-cost competition and the drop in business travelers willing to pay steep full-fare tickets.

- Steve Huettel can be reached at 813 226-3384 or at huettel@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 30, 2004, 01:05:39]

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