Topic: Price Of Flying First Class Going Down
Posted 2004-02-24 22:43:03 and read 3058 times.
Price of flying first class going down
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By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
Airfare wars have moved to the front of the cabin as airlines slash prices for domestic first-class seats.
The price cutting is being led by discounters that offer first-class sections, such as AirTran (AAI), Spirit and America West (AWA). It's widening as major airlines match fares on routes on which they compete.
The lower fares represent a huge turnabout for airlines, which have rarely discounted first class.
Says Matt Bennett, editor of FirstClassFlyer.com: "Premium seats were sacred. There was no discounting - ever." Bennett says fierce competition for customers has changed the rules.
Some discount airlines - not Southwest (LUV), Frontier (FRNT) or JetBlue (JBLU), which remain all-coach - see first-class discounts as a lure to attract business fliers who may have shunned them in the past. "It's the No. 1 requested amenity for business travelers," says AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson.
Many of the new, lower first-class fares are non-refundable or require advance purchases. America West, for instance, is charging a non-refundable $998 for a seven-day advance-purchase round-trip ticket on its New York-to-Los Angeles non-stops in first class. It's being widely matched.
That compares with a first-class, fully refundable fare of $2,262. In the first three days after the new pricing went into effect last Tuesday, America West says, first-class purchases more than doubled.
There's more to come: Discounter ATA, the nation's 10th-largest airline, plans to add a 12-seat first-class section to all 60 of its Boeing 737s and 757s by November. Fares will be capped at no more than $798 for any round-trip ticket in the continental USA.
The lower fares, however, come at the risk of alienating frequent fliers using mileage credits to upgrade. America West spokeswoman Elise Eberwein says only 6% of passengers were buying first-class tickets before the change. So even tripling of demand would leave plenty of seats for upgrades, she says.
Northwest (NWAC) is matching America West's $998 first-class fares between Phoenix and Detroit or Minneapolis-St. Paul. But it is sticking by its $1,408 first-class round-trip fare between Detroit and Los Angeles partly to accommodate upgrade requests, says spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch.
Major airlines' first-class deals:
• US Airways (UAIR) has extended through March its $498 round trip to Las Vegas from 100 markets. It offers similar discounts to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Freeport, Grand Bahama Island; and Cancun, Mexico.
• Alaska Airlines (ALK) revamped first-class fares earlier this month so that none is more than $200 above the cost of an unrestricted coach round trip. A Seattle-Los Angeles ticket costs $696, down from $1,054.