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4 BIGGEST AIRLINES IN U.S. JOINING FARE WARS

SHARE 4 BIGGEST AIRLINES IN U.S. JOINING FARE WARS

The nation's four largest airlines - American, United, Delta and Northwest - have joined in the third round of fare discounting of the summer: a 30 percent off sale launched by bankrupt America West.

And in an unrelated move, Alaska Airlines announced significant discounts for passengers traveling between destinations in the Pacific Northwest and California.America West, the nation's eighth largest carrier, announced the latest nationwide fare sale Tuesday night.

America West's discount tickets - offering up to 30 percent off the lower leisure fares - went on sale Wednesday and the sale will continue through July 28.

American, United, Delta and Northwest announced Wednesday afternoon that they would match the America West fares.

But, under terms of a consent agreement that was part of a settlement between the nation's airlines and the government over accusations of collusive pricing, the carriers matching America West cannot reveal when their discount prices will expire.

With the four largest airlines matching the America West fare cuts, the industry embarked on its third major nationwide fare sale of the summer.

The previous two sales were initiated by Northwest.

All the sales this year have held discounts to around 30 percent, which is regarded by analysts as a reasonable level for attracting customers while maintaining a profit margin.

Sale prices this summer haven't approached last year's 50 percent discount, which packed aircraft all last summer but cost the airlines millions of dollars in losses.

Under terms of the latest sale, tickets must be purchased at least 14 days before departure, a Saturday night stay is required, and all travel must be completed by Oct. 1.

Off-peak fares, which offer the deepest discounts, are available for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Peak fare levels are slightly higher.

For example, the new off-peak round-trip fare between New York and Tampa is $278 - 30 percent lower than the regular fare of $400. The off-peak fare between Boston and Los Angeles is $418 round trip, compared with the regular fare of $580 - a saving of 28 percent.

The sale fare between Chicago and San Francisco is $428 round trip - a discount of 26 percent from the previous $580.

Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, lowered its round-trip fares and introduced discount one-way fares with no advance purchase requirements. The fares are non-refundable, seats are limited and other restrictions may apply.

Examples include walk-up fares for flights from Seattle or Portland to Sacramento and to the Bay Area cities of San Francisco and Oakland. Fares are $139 one way or $278 round-trip.

Walk-up fares from Seattle or Portland to San Jose are offered at $119 one way or $238 for a round-trip ticket. The existing unrestricted round-trip fare is $820.

New walk-up fares for flights from Seattle or Portland to Southern California are available for $159 one way or $318 round trip.

In addition, Alaska Airlines is offering new three-day advance round-trip fares from Seattle and Portland to San Francisco for $150; to Oakland and Sacramento for $158; and to Southern California for $238.