- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

CHICAGO, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, United Airlines is extending cut-rate fares to compete with rivals American Airlines, Southwest and other carriers and will launch a $50 million national ad campaign.

United is hoping the offer of bargain discounts lures more travelers back to flying at a time when the entire industry is suffering huge losses. United filed for federal bankruptcy protection Dec. 9 and later said it expected to lose $3.2 billion in 2002.

American Airlines triggered the latest possible round of fare wars Wednesday when it cut fares to 200 domestic and foreign destinations. United matched the move on Thursday by extending its winter sale of 40 percent off leisure fares for domestic travel through May 18.

"This extension allows extra time to book an exciting winter or spring break vacation on United," said Chris Bowers, senior vice president-sales and reservations.

Customers who book online by April 30 also earn 1,000 bonus Mileage Plus miles.

The sale fares are valid for travel through May 8 and require a 14-day advance purchase and a Saturday night stay.

Sample roundtrip fares include Chicago to Boston or Chicago-New York City, $198; Chicago-Los Angeles, $248; Chicago-Orlando, $204; Denver-Phoenix, $254; Los Angeles-Atlanta, $346; San Francisco-Washington, D.C., $362 and Washington, D.C.-Miami, $206.

International sale fares require a 7-day advance purchase, must be bought by Jan. 20 and are valid for travel from Jan. 13 through March 31.

Roundtrip fares include Chicago-Frankfurt, Germany, $498; Los Angeles-Mexico City, $318; New York City-London, $298; Miami-Rio de Janeiro, $398; San Francisco-Tokyo, $598 and Washington, D.C.-Amsterdam, $438.

United plans to launch a $50 million ad campaign in March touting the low leisure fares that will not mention the company's financial problems, USA Today reported Friday.

Industry analysts say United must win back the casual traveler if it is to survive and emerge from bankruptcy. Business travelers once accounted for 40 percent of the carrier's revenue but now represent only about 20 percent of revenue.

U.S. airlines lost more than $7 billion last year.

Most of the commercial airlines have been losing money since before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, though Southwest and JetBlue bucked the industry trend with their cost-efficient, low-fare operations.

Phoenix-based America West, which successfully reorganized in bankruptcy, is trying a different tact — charging for meal service on board selected flights. Starting Monday, passengers on the eighth-largest U.S. airline will be able to purchase snacks such as cheese, crackers, cookies, nuts, beef jerky or ice cream for $3, a hot sandwich, patty melt or fresh fruit bowl for $5, or a full chicken Kiev dinner for $10.

The "Buy on Board" program will last three weeks and then be evaluated.


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