Travel Notes: When low-cost airlines expand service, fares drop -- temporarily

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Airline mergers have put more than 70 percent of the nation's domestic traffic in the hands of four major carriers. But low-cost airlines still have some influence over airfares.

A new study shows that when airlines such as JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, Alaska and Southwest launch service on an existing domestic route, the average price from all carriers drops as much as 67 percent.

It's good news for travelers, but aviation experts say most popular routes are still dominated by the four biggest carriers: United, Delta, Southwest and the soon-to-be-merged American and US Airways.

And even when low-cost carriers launch a new route, fares drop only temporarily.

"It doesn't stay that way forever," said Rick Seaney, founder of the travel site FareCompare.com.

The effect of low-cost airlines was the focus of the study by travel planning site Hopper.

The study looked at what happened when low-cost carriers started to serve about 150 new routes. The website analyzed airfares three months before and three months after the carriers started the routes.

When JetBlue entered a market, prices dropped the most, up to 67 percent.

For example, when JetBlue started service between Boston and Philadelphia in May 2013, the average fare for all airlines serving that route dropped to $118 from $356, according to the Hopper study.

"Where they choose to enter the market, they are able to knock prices down a lot," said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper.

Spirit and Frontier airlines pushed domestic fares down an average of 30 percent when they entered a new market, the study said.

And although those lower fares gradually rose again, Mr. Seaney said they didn't typically rise as high as they had been.

"The more competition you have, the better for consumers," he said.

Spirit Airlines tops another survey

Spirit Airlines has topped another unflattering ranking.

A few weeks ago the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund analyzed complaint rates among passengers over the past five years. The ultra-low-cost Florida carrier came out on top of that list.

Spirit now ranks at the top again - for the rudest flight attendants. A survey of 3,400 people by the travel website Airfarewatchdog found that 26 percent said Spirit has the rudest flight attendants.

Air Canada came in second with 14 percent, followed by Frontier Airlines with 11 percent and Virgin America with 9 percent.

Southwest Airlines was at the bottom of the list with only 1 percent.

The service given by flight attendants may reflect how they are treated by airlines, according to a flight attendants union.

"A solid company with a good business plan that treats its employees well typically has good customer service," said Leslie Mayo, a spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents attendants at American Airlines.

Four Seasons jets offer deluxe flying

Four Seasons Hotels, the luxury five-star hotel company, is extending its extravagant service to air travel with the launch of private jet service.

The Canadian hotel company retrofitted a Boeing 757 plane with Four Seasons luxury to give "discerning travelers a distinctly Four Seasons travel experience," according to the company.

Translation: Starting in February 2015, the pimped-out jet will take well-heeled travelers to see some of the world's coolest destinations, while booking them in swanky Four Seasons rooms. Instead of the usual 233 seats on an 757, the plane will have 52 lay-flat leather seats, handcrafted in Italy.

The tab: A 24-day trip around the world will cost $119,000 a person. Hotel mini bar charges aren't included.


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