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Continental Air Increase Back On

May 17, 2000

HOUSTON (AP) _ The on-again, off-again Continental-led airline fare hike is back on again, and analysts expect this one to stick.

Travelers and travel agents, meanwhile, remain confounded from trying to make sense of the latest round of constantly changing rate plans as the busy summer travel season begins.

``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.″

After raising business and leisure fares up to $30 a round trip, then rolling them back, Houston-based Continental Airlines said Tuesday that the higher prices are back in effect.

The roller-coaster ride probably hasn’t ended, though.

``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,″ said Tom Parsons, editor of Bestfares.com, a Web site that sells discounted airline tickets.

The industrywide price increase began 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.

Northwest, traditionally an indicator of whether a price increase will stick, finally brought its prices into line with its public pronouncements that it would match the increase on Tuesday afternoon.

``I think now it’s official on all levels, business and leisure. When Northwest made the move, that’s all anybody needed to know,″ Parsons said.

The two last holdouts, Trans World Airlines and America West Airlines, raised their fares late Tuesday afternoon after signaling they would follow the hike.

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 and Northwest had all announced they would increase prices but had not raised their excursion fares on the computer reservations systems used by travel agents.

``Delta stayed put on the leisure fares Monday, and that meant Delta had the advantage over the other airlines,″ said 1travel.com’s Terry Trippler, who monitors the airline industry. ``They had two choices _ sit tight and leave Delta with a $30 advantage or roll the fares back.

``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 country’s 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.

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