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Northwest Facing Airfare Competition

April 25, 1999

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Air travelers who had been waiting for Sun Country Airlines to begin low-fare competition against Northwest Airlines out of the Twin Cities are seeing summer travel bargains already.

Officially, Sun Country’s challenge to Northwest’s dominance on 14 popular Twin Cities routes won’t start until June 1. But the contest, which promises to be costly for the competitors, already has opened on a limited front.

``I’ve never seen Northwest do anything like this before,″ said George Wozniak, president of Minneapolis-based Hobbit Travel. ``They’re pulling out all the stops. They’re acting like American Airlines is coming in to challenge them.″

Northwest, the nation’s fourth-largest carrier, has 410 aircraft. Sun Country has 15.

The clearest evidence of an emerging price war is on routes to Milwaukee and Las Vegas.

``They are definitely cutting fares,″ said Jodi Villarreal, a travel manager for St. Paul-based Midwest Sign & Screen Printing Supply Co.

Villarreal said a recent $75 one-way fare to Milwaukee on Northwest was one-fourth the price her company usually pays.

``There’s no doubt in my mind it’s a reaction to Sun Country,″ she said.

Northwest spokesman Jon Austin said the airline on Monday began offering $69 one-way fares on certain flights to Milwaukee with a three-day advance purchase restriction. Northwest also has rolled out a $138 round-trip fare available on all its flights from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee with a Saturday night stay and seven-day advance purchase.

Northwest is not yet offering the same low fares as Sun Country on every Northwest flight to every city Sun Country flies. But starting June 1, Sun Country expects Northwest to match it fare-for-fare on most flights, said Paul Miller, Sun Country’s vice president of marketing and planning.

Valerie Estep, president of Topaz International Ltd., an airfare auditing and travel management consulting firm, said ``the consumers will make out like bandits, but I don’t think either company will do very well.″

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