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BETA HELPS TRAVELERS GET BETTER FARES

If you've traveled anywhere on a commercial airline in the past couple of years or even if you haven't but you're a regular reader of these pages, you know that getting from Salt Lake City to . . . well, just about anywhere, has become a costly proposition.

Whatever happened to "peanut" fares? Utahns want to know; those $50 round trip tickets to Denver and Los Angeles that we all remember so fondly from the early days of airline deregulation a decade ago.They've gone the way of Western Airlines, that's where.

The Utah Air Travel Commission, the citizen body charged with keeping Utah's air service all that it can be, has done its part, even to spending $15,000 on a study by Kurth & Co., based in Washington, D.C., that shows soaring air fares aren't just a local problem.

And the Deseret News has tried to help out as well, publishing each Sunday in this section a list of the various fares offered to the most popular destination cities by airlines operating out of Salt Lake International Airport.

Now comes Beehive Business and Leisure Travel with a new high-tech solution in the battle to assure travelers the lowest possible air fares to their destinations.

It's called the BETA System and it's currently operating (and on display) at Beehive's headquarters in North Salt Lake. The system serves all 13 Beehive offices in Utah and California.

BETA - an acronym for "Beehive Electronic Travel Audit" - accesses thousands of air fares daily, said Mark Rose, president and chief executive officer.

"Since deregulation, the number of basic air fares has increased to 1.8 million in the United States alone with more than 161,000 changes nightly," said Rose.

"In addition, there are growing numbers of conditions, restrictions, discounts and incentives associated with these fares. Add it all up and you get an idea of the exponential growth in travel information."

Most frustrating of all, notes Rose, is when a lower fare becomes available on a flight after you've booked your ticket. BETA, he says, can help alleviate that particular vexation by finding and making available the lowest fare up to the date of departure.

He said industry statistics show that one of every 6.7 tickets is booked at rates higher than the lowest available fare. The average fare savings on those tickets is $113.

Airlines, said Rose, check the fare categories on each flight in a profit-boosting process called "yield management." Electronic technology allows the airlines to constantly monitor the enormous number of fares, reservations, conditions and restrictions that allows them to get the highest possible dollar yield from each seat on every flight.

According to Edward Jay Epstein in an article in Lears Magazine titled "Secrets of the Airlines" (Feb. 1990) American Airlines calculates that one full-fare passenger added to all its flights would result in extra revenues of $200 million a year.

"This is, therefore, what the airline business is about; inducing passengers to buy an expensive ticket for a seat that they, or others, could occupy at a fraction of the price," said Epstein.

Rose agrees that travelers need all the help they can get to avoid contributing to airline yield management.

"Only by double-checking each client's ticketing records every night to determine if the client qualifies for any fare reductions offered during the preceding day by new fares or other lower fare opportunities can a travel consultant keep pace with the options available to travelers," he said.

According to Beehive, BETA not only guarantees travelers the lowest fare to date of departure (not just at booking) but assures first priority for seat selection, catches problems before the trip is made and checks 12 different areas for quality assurance.