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Continental Air Increase Back On

May 16, 2000

HOUSTON (AP) _ Air travelers might be have more than jet lag to blame for being confused these days.

Continental Airlines, which raised fares up to $30 a round trip late last week, only to roll back the decision Monday, reinstated the higher fares Tuesday.

Other airlines scrambled to match the move, and analysts said they expected the latest increase to stick at the onset of the peak vacation season.

Northwest, traditionally an indicator of whether a price hike will hold, said Tuesday it was matching Continental.

``I think now it’s official on all levels, business and leisure. When Northwest made the move, that’s all anybody needed to know,″ said Tom Parsons, editor of Bestfares.com, a Web site that sells discounted airline tickets.

Of the major carriers, only Trans World Airlines and America West Airlines had not raised their fares by mid-afternoon Tuesday.

But America West said it would be matching the increase, and TWA had raised business fares. TWA spokeswoman Julie Bishop Cross said a leisure fare increase was being evaluated.

``TWA and America West are not large enough to hold back a fare increase,″ said 1travel.com’s Terry Trippler, who monitors the airline industry. ``So this is all over but the shouting.″

Nevertheless, the price swings have confounded travelers and travel agents.

``The clients are totally confused because the prices vary by the day and during the day, and it’s very difficult to quote a price to them,″ said Ray Schutter, who owns a Houston-area travel agency. ``If we try to set a reservation and tell customers to wait a bit to see if the prices get better, we’ve been ending up with a higher price.

``It’s a real sweet and sour thing with us.″

The industrywide price hike started Thursday when Continental said it would raise domestic business and leisure fares by $10 to $30 per round trip, based on distance. After reversing course Monday, the nation’s fifth-largest carrier reinstated the hike, Continental spokeswoman Julie Gardner confirmed Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines, the nation’s third-biggest airline, was slow to agree to the increase for leisure travel, causing other major airlines to roll back weekend price raises in that category, where tickets are bought well in advance.

Delta came around Monday afternoon, by which time American Airlines, U.S. Airways, Northwest had all announced they would increase prices but had yet to raise their excursion fares on the computer reservations systems used by travel agents.

``The airlines say they don’t talk to each other about prices, and I think they put us through this every once in a while to prove it,″ Trippler said.

United Airlines, the United States’ largest carrier, on Monday agreed to the match and kept the new prices in effect, spokesman Joe Hopkins said.

Thursday marked Continental’s fourth attempt at raising fares this year. Two Continental-led increases have stuck this year, one in January and one in March.

``Now that this one is over, all we have to look forward to is a new one in the next eight weeks or so, and now that they have everything settled we’ll probably see a fare sale soon,″ Parsons said.

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