AMERICAN SWOOPS INTO LOW-FARE FIGHT WITH SOUTHWEST

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American Airlines is joining the list of carriers picking on Southwest Airlines.

Until recently, American hadn't advertised that it offers discount fares in markets where the nation's No. 2 carrier competes against Southwest. American's low fares have been available in limited quantities, but consumers didn't know it.

Now, American is running print advertis-ing promoting "Everyday fares so low, you won't know where to go first." After listing discount fares, the ad from Temerlin McClain, Dallas, says: "This is not a sale. These are our everyday low prices. Plus you get pre-reserved seating ... and you'll earn mileage credit toward free trips and upgrades."

"This is different for us," an American spokeswoman confirmed. "We realized in talking with our customers that they were not aware that we offered the same fares as Southwest. This is to combat that misperception."

Southwest is defending its position as "The low fare airline" in many key markets. As no-frills, discount travel has caught on, Southwest faces competition from United Airlines' shuttle, Continental Lite, regional start-ups and now American.

Last week, Southwest extended its deadline for purchase of a 21-day advance $39 fare from Nov. 10 to Dec. 31 for travel within California. The move comes after Shuttle by United began efforts last month to capture part of that state's low fare market. The extension is getting no ad support.

Southwest also continued another sale in four targeted markets-Baltimore/Washington; Cleveland; Louisville, Ky.; and Salt Lake City. And to round out the initiative, the carrier unveiled a $99-or-less one-way fare for travel from Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, to select markets. Both sales end Nov. 22, and travel must be completed by March 2. GSD&M, Austin, is creating print ads for both programs.

"Because there are so many Southwest imitators, we think it's important to reinforce Southwest's position as the low-fare leader, not only in the short-haul markets but also on those longer trips," said Dave Ridley, Southwest VP-marketing and sales.

With American's move into the low fare fray, Southwest may find itself fighting harder to keep its dominance in the discount air travel category.

"There's a growing and powerful imperative for fairly priced air transportation that can't be ignored without risking significant revenue loss," said James O'Donnell, chairman of Seabrook Marketing, a Houston travel consultancy. "Even American cannot afford to hide behind `Something special in the air' [its image ad theme] in a commodity driven marketplace."

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